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Setting the Record Straight on SNAP, Part 8: Hill Article Gets It Way Wrong on House SNAP Cuts

A recent article in The Hill on the House Republican SNAP (food stamp) bill that faces a floor vote this week (“GOP to push bill restoring work requirements for food stamps,” Sept. 12) is riddled with serious errors.  All of them help to portray the House GOP proposal positively — which may not be surprising, since the article quotes only House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and a Cantor aide.

The problem starts in the very first sentence:  “House GOP leaders plan to call up a bill next week that would reauthorize the federal food stamp program and restore a requirement that able-bodied people must work or be looking for work in order to receive food stamps” (emphasis added).  In fact, under the provision, adults aged 18-50 who aren’t raising minor children will be cut off SNAP after three months if they aren’t working at least 20 hours a week or participating in a work or training program — even if they live in areas with very high unemployment where jobs are scarce.  “Looking for work” will not count.  If you’re looking for work but can’t find it, and you can’t find a place in a work or training program — something only a few states make available to all of these individuals — you will lose SNAP after three months.  The Hill’s lead sentence seriously misportrays the provision.

The second sentence is even worse.  “Republicans,” it says, “have sought to restore the work requirement since the Obama Administration told states in 2012 that it could be waived.”  That’s flatly false.  The waiver criteria — under which governors can request waivers from the three-month cut-off for areas with high unemployment — were developed by the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.  The waiver criteria that the Obama administration is applying are the same as those that the Bush administration used.

The errors continue in the third sentence, which states, “The GOP has said that decision” — the supposed Obama administration creation of new waiver rules in 2012 — “gutted a key decision from 1996 that helped thousands of people leave the welfare rolls.”  Not only is this mistaken, but the article fails to note that the GOP proposal itself would undercut part of the 1996 welfare law — the 1996 law established the waiver authority that the GOP proposal would abolish.  Indeed, the Republican sponsors of the three-month cut-off rule declared on the House floor in 1996 that the waivers would avert serious hardship in areas with high unemployment.

The article also confuses the SNAP waiver authority in question, which Congress established as an explicit part of the food stamp provisions of the 1996 welfare law, with a never-implemented Obama proposal from 2012 to allow states to waive certain rules in the TANF program.  The latter proposal is a separate matter, entirely unrelated to the pending SNAP legislation, despite the article’s claim to the contrary.

Finally, the article says that the welfare law “turned food stamps into a block grant to states.”  It didn’t.

We need better informed reporting on important matters that affect millions of low-income people, not a string of erroneous statements that largely reflect political spin.