Farm Bill Fails in the House: Would Have Wreaked Havoc on SNAP

Jun 21, 2013

By Helly Lee

Over a hundred amendments were considered in just the two days it took for the House to debate and ultimately reject the Farm Bill by a final vote count of 195-234. The bill included $20.5 billion in reductions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which would have cut nearly 2 million people from the program and reinstated outdated rules that prevent recipients from saving.

In addition, numerous harmful amendments to the SNAP program were approved and included in the bill that failed on Thursday:

  • Representative Steve Southerland’s (R-FL) amendment would have given states financial incentives for cutting people from SNAP through work sanctions. This proposal would have allowed states to require adults who receive or apply for SNAP to be working or participating in a work training program for at least 20 hours a week. Those unable to do so could have seen their SNAP benefits eliminated, but the amendment didn’t require states to provide work or training opportunities to individuals subject to these work requirements. States could simply eliminate SNAP for low-income individuals who want to work but cannot find jobs — and the amendment would allow states to keep half the savings that resulted.
  • Representative Richard Hudson’s (R-NC) amendment would have allowed states to require drug testing of any SNAP applicant as a condition of eligibility. This amendment falsely implies that low-income families are more likely to be drug users.  Moreover, courts have held that drug testing individuals as a condition of eligibility for public benefits is an unconstitutional violation of the requirement that such tests be based on reasonable cause.
  • Representative Tom Reed (R-NY)’s amendment would have permanently denied SNAP benefits to individuals convicted of certain felonies.  This amendment would punish people who have already served their time, and make it harder for them to re-integrate into society.  It would also penalize their families or others who share households with them by reducing their SNAP benefits.

The defeat of the House Farm Bill means that – for now - these amendments will not become law.  However we are likely to see these or similar amendments arise in future proposals around SNAP.

Thursday’s vote puts into question what happens from here. Last year, the Farm Bill was extended through September 2013, and it will again face expiration on October 1, 2013 if nothing else is done.

On June 10, the Senate passed its version of a Farm Bill, which includes smaller but still significant cuts to SNAP. The House could now attempt to move the Senate bill, or pass a short-term extension.  While SNAP will continue unchanged in the absence of an enacted Farm Bill, such Congressional inaction would cause significant problems with respect to the breadth of agricultural policy that the Farm Bill addresses.

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