CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A committee of lawmakers in West Virginia’s Republican-majority Legislature is advancing a bill that would require photo IDs to be added to the cards low-income residents who qualify for government assistance use to purchase food.
Sponsors say the bill, which passed by one Senate committee Thursday and must be approved by another before heading before the full chamber, is meant to combat fraud within the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It would require the state to issue new cards with photos to program participants. More than 317,000 of West Virginia’s around 1.8 million residents were enrolled in SNAP, as of June 2022.
“When one of these (programs) is scammed, both the recipient of the benefits is harmed and the taxpayer is harmed,” GOP Sen. Eric Tarr, a bill sponsor and Senate Finance Chair, said during Thursday’s meeting. Legislative staff said a projection of the cost to issue new cards is still in progress.
But a state administrator cautioned legislators, testifying that it lacks enforcement power without running afoul of federal discrimination law.
Jackie Hoppe, director EBT Banking Services for the state, said federal discrimination law prohibits proprietors from denying purchases to a person who presents a viable card and knows the card’s PIN. States may use photographs on the identification cards, but they may not delay or deny benefits to households whose members are unwilling to be photographed.
“Retailers can’t discriminate against anyone who presents an EBT card,” Hoppe said. “If they present a viable card, they have to be honored.”
Hoppe said the retailer has no choice but to accept a working card with a PIN, whether the photo on the card is a photo of them or not.
“So, it really doesn’t make a difference,” she said, of adding a photo requirement. “The photo ID can’t be enforced because the retail person can’t say, ‘Well, your picture isn’t on this card.′ ”
Under current federal SNAP program rules, a family member or another member of a person’s household can use their food stamp card to make purchases, as long as they have the correct PIN. All members of the SNAP household must be able to access the benefits, even if their name and photo don’t align with the information on the card. If a state imposes a photo identification rule, the federal government requires the state agency in charge of getting benefits out to residents to establish new procedures ensuring that other household members may still utilize the card.
A way to do that might be to give out benefit cards with photos to every person in a household who might use the card, but that could be a challenge and mean a lot of replacements when some inevitably get lost, Hoppe said. Retailers are already encouraged to report suspected fraud, and the state’s EBT processor conducts regular surveillance with law enforcement.
“We know it’s there,” Hoppe said, of SNAP fraud. “And we try to make our users very aware that they need to protect their cards.”
Lawmakers voted to advance the bill, but they amended it so it would go into effect in the summer of 2025 instead summer 2024, as it was originally written. Republican Sen. Ryan Weld said that would give the state more time to implement a photo ID policy in accordance with federal law.
To qualify for SNAP benefits in West Virginia, a family of four must have an annual household income of less than $39,000 a year.