BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - When John Bel Edwards takes office as governor in January, one of the first things he plans to address is the state's food stamp program and the requirements needed in order for individuals to receive benefits.
"All we're saying is let's keep Governor Jindal's waiver of the work requirement until we find out that we actually have a way for these people to get work," said Julie Baxter Payer, Edwards' Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications, Legal and Special Projects.
In a letter to the United States Department of Agriculture, Edwards said he intends to request a waiver to the federal work requirement in the coming weeks. Without the waiver, able bodied persons, defined by the USDA as healthy individuals between the ages of 18 and 49 and without any mental or physical handicaps will be mandated to work 20 hours per week, enroll in a job training program or find volunteer work or public service.
Because of the state's high unemployment rates since the recession in 2008, the state had been gr anted a waiver allowing people in Louisiana to skirt those work requirements while still getting benefits. Governor Jindal allowed that waiver to expire in October, an administration spokesperson saying, "Having a job is empowering, and it allows people to break the cycle of poverty. Louisiana's workforce is stronger than ever, and we want to encourage more people to join it."
State Treasurer John Kennedy agrees and opposes waiving the work requirements.
"The goal here is to get folks off public assistance so they don't need to free up money for people who need public assistance," said Kennedy.
Edwards contends that requesting the waiver will help make sure the right problems are being addressed.
"Keeping people on government assistance is not something that John Bel Edwards wants to keep, but to abruptly cut them off when the only program we tried in Louisiana to get these people to work failed. We don't want to just say on paper that we have a way to get those people to work, we need to really have a way to match these people with jobs," said Payer.
Kennedy says there are ample opportunities across the state for people to meet the minimal requirements needed to receive taxpayer help.
"We're talking about healthy people. Young people who are able to go out and find work," said Kennedy.
"We're not talking about parents, or the elderly or the sick. We'll still give you food stamps, but you have got to go find a job. I don't think that's unreasonable. I can't believe there's any debate to it."
A decision on whether the waiver is gr anted is not expected until after January 11 when Edwards takes office and officially requests the waiver.