An anti-hunger advocacy group has asked the state to review an action by the Department of Workforce Services that changed the way 875 Utahns receive their food stamps.

In a Friday letter, Crossroads Urban Center asked the state Division of Administrative Rules to review the manner in which Workforce Services enacted the policy change to see if it complies with state-required processes.

"It is our understanding that under Utah law a state agency is required to follow state rulemaking procedures when a proposed rule prohibits provision of a benefit, even when the proposed rule is an interpretation of federal policy," states the letter signed by Glenn Bailey, Crossroads' executive director.

Crossroads maintains it was never told about the change, which requires all able-bodied adults without dependents to be working or actively looking for work or participating in employment training in order to receive food-stamp benefits.

Previously, the Department of Workforce Services had an exemption that allowed many who fell into that category to receive food stamps for three months without participating in employment and training programs, spokesman Curt Stewart said.

However, the federal government only allows a certain number of exemptions each year, and the state had used them all by July, forcing the policy change, which became effective Aug. 1, he said.

Because the change was simply intended to bring Utah in line with federal regulations, it does not require adherence to the state's rulemaking law, which requires, among other things, notice of the new rule and an opportunity for public comment, he said.

Crossroads has characterized the department's actions as "cuts" to the food-stamp program, but Stewart said Friday the policy change simply alters the requirements for Utahns to qualify for food stamps.

"As far as anybody losing benefits, they don't lose their benefits as long as they enroll in (work-related programs)," Stewart said. "If they choose not to participate in the employment and training activities, they will lose their benefits."

In any given month, 54,750 Utah households are on food stamps.

The Division of Administrative Rules oversees the rule-making processes in state agencies. Director Kenneth Hansen had not seen Crossroads' letter by Friday afternoon but said that once he receives it, he will review the issue and speak to those involved in the policy-change process.


E-mail: awelling@desnews.com