SNAP Benefits Hang in the Balance With New House Bill

Newly strengthened work requirements could affect even the parents of young children.

Posted: May 7, 2018 2:56 PM
Updated: May 7, 2018 6:23 PM

MEDFORD, Ore. — For better or worse, the passage of the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 by the U.S. Congress would reverberate throughout the nation—and Oregon is no exception.

Although the bill addresses U.S. agriculture broadly, it also takes aim at food assistance programs, such as SNAP. Over five million Americans receive some sort of food assistance (nearly 400,000 in Oregon), and this bill could affect their ability to buy groceries.

The greater Rogue Valley area alone contains over 66,000 people on SNAP benefits, receiving over $8 million dollars in benefits per year.

The new bill would impose stricter work requirements on as many as 5 million of the 42 million Americans who rely on the program — a number that would mostly target able-bodied adults without children, as well as millions of school-age parents who are currently exempt in many states.

SNAP rules currently require that all recipients meet work requirements unless they are exempt due to age or disability. Children, seniors, and those with disabilities comprise almost two thirds of SNAP participants. USDA rules state that able-bodied adults without dependents who aren’t disabled can only receive SNAP for three months in three years if they do not meet special work requirements.

Able-bodied adults without children or other dependents are already required to participate in a training program for 20 hours per week or to work to keep their SNAP benefits longer than three months over a three-year period. However, states largely exempted participants from those time limits during the Great Recession.

Waivers have been slowly lapsing as the economy recovered. But about 36 percent of the U.S. population lives in an area where that rule is still waived, and the House bill is expected to rein in that flexibility.

CLICK HERE for our previous coverage on this story, after an interview with Senator Ron Wyden.

American Enterprise Institute—a conservative-leaning think tank—estimates that around 9 million people, or about one-fifth of SNAP recipients, are able-bodied and not working. But Democratic aides said the proposal would likely result in at least a million recipients dropping off of SNAP over an unspecified time period due to stricter work requirements and income limits in some states.

The current law regulating U.S. nutrition is set to expire on September 30 of this year. The Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 just passed the House Committee on Agriculture after a party-line vote, and will soon be debated on the floor of the House. Should it pass the House and Senate, the new bill will govern U.S. agriculture and nutrition just as the old one expires.

The Trump administration has voiced support for the Republican-drafted bill.

President Donald Trump’s 2019 budget made waves for proposing to replace half the food stamp benefits families get with a “Harvest Box” full of shelf-stable foods, part of a broader pitch to cut more than $214 billion from the program over a decade.

The full text of the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 may be found below.

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