WASHINGTON – When House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden successfully negotiated a debt ceiling deal with stricter work requirements for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP benefits, it was not the end of the policy debate surrounding the massive social safety net.
“Let’s get the rest of the work requirements,” McCarthy said at a press conference after the House passed the debt ceiling deal.
The popular food assistance program is gearing up to become a major point of contention in the closely divided House as lawmakers work to hammer out a farm bill, must-pass legislation approved roughly every five years that addresses agricultural to conservation to nutrition policy. The bill’s 2018 version is set to expire Sept. 30 and it is unclear if lawmakers will be able to pass a new version before that deadline.
Food assistance programs make up nearly 80% of the massive spending bill, which spent $867 billion in 2018. This year’s farm bill could run roughly $1.5 trillion according to the Congressional Budget Office. With a Republican-controlled House eager to cut spending wherever possible, the farm bill could be another target for GOP lawmakers eyeing budget cuts.
Ahead of when lawmakers return to Washington from the August recess, Democratic lawmakers are already digging in when it comes to support for the farm bill.
Any changes to SNAP or food assistance is a “non-starter” for Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., a member of the House agriculture committee. McGovern told USA TODAY it is “unconscionable” to further limit access to SNAP after work requirements were changed in the debt ceiling negotiations.
Time is short for Congress to approve must-pass farm bill
The current farm bill is set to expire on Sep. 30 and Congress will only be in session for about three weeks when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill in September. With little time to spare, hunger relief advocates are hoping the legislation can be pushed in a bipartisan fashion.
“We have to view investments in SNAP as an investment in our future,” Vince Hall, chief government relations officer of Feeding America, told USA TODAY. “I’m hoping … that this August recess will be an opportunity for (lawmakers) to really ground themselves in the reality of their communities and come back to Washington ready to roll up their sleeves and create a bipartisan farm bill.”
Chair of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., has promised to maintain bipartisanship with the farm bill, which has traditionally passed Congress without the partisan rancor that has dominated the House as of late.
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What it means for you
Efforts to change SNAP are already afoot among Republicans in the House Agriculture committee. Among some of those changes are modifying waivers for SNAP recipients who are adults without children, who are able to still receive benefits even if they do not fulfill work requirements in some conditions, according to a Republican aide who was granted anonymity to speak about the ongoing discussions.
But other changes to food assistance, according to the aide, Democrats could find agreeable. Among those changes are:
Broadening the activities that would satisfy the work requirements for recipients to qualify for SNAP such as volunteer work and training programs.
Repealing a ban on people with felony drug convictions blocking them from receiving SNAP benefits.
Making food more accessible for recipients of certain programs, such as implementing a delivery program for elderly recipients of the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.
GOP lawmaker would not support SNAP changes if it’s ‘the difference’ between feeding families
The debate surrounding changes to SNAP is not a clear cut partisan issue for lawmakers.
Rep. Derrick Van Orden, R-Wis., a member of the House Agriculture committee, told USA TODAY in an interview he was raised on SNAP benefits growing up as a child. The Wisconsin Republican said he would be hard pressed to support work requirements if it meant other people in similar situations as to his were impacted by the changes.
“I was raised on food stamps until my mom could get her feet underneath her. Those programs are incredibly vital,” Orden said, noting he would support stronger work requirements, “but if it’s the difference between not being able to feed poor children like I was growing up … that’s something that I would really seriously look at.”
Democratic lawmakers say work requirement debate on SNAP is over
Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly warned that as far as they see it – expanding work requirements for SNAP benefits has been settled. Any further changes, Democrats say, is an absolute non-starter for their support.
“The issue of work requirements was resolved,” after the debt ceiling deal, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., a member of the House Agriculture committee, told USA TODAY. Costa said that sentiment rings true for “the overwhelming majority of Democrats.”
With little calendar time remaining until the farm bill’s expiration considering Congress also has to pass government spending bills to avert a shutdown, Costa said he could see lawmakers voting to extend the bill with a continuing resolution to buy more time for negotiations.
Rep. Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa., another member of the House Agriculture Committee, who co-sponsored a bill earlier this year that would have made it harder for people to receive SNAP benefits, scoffed at the concern over GOP lawmakers putting more limits on the program.
“We’re working with it all right now. I just want to get the farm bill passed,” Feenstra said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: SNAP benefits: How fight in Congress on work requirements impacts you