BEYOND THE NUMBERS
The House, which is expected to vote this week on the Agriculture Committee-approved farm bill, passed an amendment today from Committee Chairman Michael Conaway that worsens an already troubling bill by expanding its cuts in SNAP (food stamps) and making its expanded work requirements even more rigid and unworkable for families and states. One change to the work provisions would cause another 600,000 people to lose SNAP benefits in 2021. While the amendment makes modest improvements by delaying one cut and protecting people with disabilities from another, overall it deepens the SNAP benefit cuts from $17.3 billion to $18.8 billion.
- The amendment would make it even harder for states to get waivers from the three-month time limit and the new work requirements. SNAP now has a three-month time limit on benefits for adults ages 18 through 49 who don’t receive disability benefits and aren’t raising children in their homes. The underlying bill would replace this time limit with the new work requirements in 2021 and, beginning immediately, it would limit states’ ability to waive the three-month limit temporarily for areas with high unemployment. The amendment, by making it even harder to secure a waiver, would cause 600,000 more people to lose SNAP in 2021, the Congressional Budget Office estimates. The provision would also make it harder for states to receive waivers of the new work requirements in high-unemployment areas, putting even more recipients — including parents, caregivers, and people with serious health conditions — at risk of losing SNAP in these communities.
- The amendment would reduce the number of people that states could exempt from the new work requirements. The underlying bill would let states exempt up to 15 percent of adults subject to the work requirements. States could (but wouldn’t have to) use these exemptions for individuals they deem particularly ill-served by the requirements, such as the homeless, veterans, or caregivers for family members with health issues. The amendment would cut the exemption to 12 percent starting in 2026, without any evidence that 15 percent was sufficient, let alone too high.
These amendment's changes to the bill's work provision would increase the bill’s SNAP benefit cuts by $4.9 billion.
- The amendment also would reduce employment and training funding for states by $350 million over ten years. House Speaker Paul Ryan said yesterday that the farm bill would help SNAP recipients “develop those skills that close that opportunity gap,” but the bill’s funding — just $30 per month per recipient who’d need to participate in an employment program to retain SNAP benefits — is a tiny fraction of what’s needed to provide high-quality training for in-demand jobs. The amendment makes this worse by stipulating that if states are slow to spend the funds, they would revert to the federal government rather than remain available the next year.
- The amendment has some provisions that reduce the benefit cuts in the underlying bill. One would delay by two years the bill’s elimination of the “categorical eligibility” option, which most states have used to prevent working families from losing benefits abruptly when they get a small increase in their earnings. The other would protect households that include people with disabilities from the bill’s requirement that they prove that they have utility costs even if they also receive benefits from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. These two changes reduce the bill’s benefit cuts by $3.4 billion, but the result is still an $18.8 billion cut.