House Farm Bill: Bureaucracy, Burden for Families and States
By Jessica Gehr
In recent years, states have made significant strides in streamlining and simplifying public benefit programs for low-income families, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). They’ve reduced time-consuming administrative processes and improved state delivery systems. Unfortunately, the new House farm bill would reinstate unnecessary bureaucracy and paperwork in SNAP, undermining state efforts to modernize. This would hurt hardworking families and burden state officials.
Punitive work requirements
The farm bill would make extensive changes to SNAP’s work requirement, imposing new bureaucracy and an underfunded state mandate.
Those subject to the sweeping new requirements would be required to attend, document, and verify at least 20 hours of work or training activities each week in order to maintain their food assistance, putting food assistance at risk for up to 8 million people. Most SNAP recipients who can work already do, meaning this bill tries to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Recipients would be forced to constantly complete paperwork proving they’re meeting the work requirement, an especially onerous demand for people who have multiple jobs and family responsibilities.
Meanwhile, states would need to develop massive tracking systems to document participation. Service providers and employment case managers would be forced to focus on monitoring attendance instead of providing high-quality services that help recipients find meaningful work.
Reinstating benefit cliffs and paperwork hurdles
Some SNAP recipients experience a “benefit cliff.” As their wages increase, they become ineligible for help despite still needing the program to make ends meet. They may also be ruled ineligible for having savings accounts or other assets. The benefit cliff undermines their economic security and ability to put food on the table.
Recognizing this, most states have exercised an option called broad based categorical eligibility (BBCE), which allows them to raise limits on income and assets. Many of these states have significantly raised income limits and completely removed asset tests. This has mitigated the benefit cliff and helped states create employment incentives and wage growth.
The House farm bill would turn back progress, eliminating BBCE except in very narrow circumstances. Around 400,000 households would lose SNAP if the income threshold changes. Lowering asset limits would also result in fewer people getting help. Even those with assets under the threshold would be burdened with paperwork, having to document savings and other assets during the eligibility determination process.
Rolling back simplification and forcing more paperwork
Some states have simplified SNAP applications for people who participate in the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). LIHEAP participants automatically qualify for SNAP’s standard utility allowance deduction, a key factor in calculating monthly benefits. LIHEAP serves low-income households who can’t afford to pay their full energy bill by covering part of a household’s utility expenses. The House farm bill would ban states from using non-elderly people’s LIHEAP assistance to calculate benefits, resulting in fewer SNAP dollars for LIHEAP participants.
The proposed bill goes even further to mandate that all SNAP recipients verify utility costs to receive the utility deduction. This change would not make a household ineligible for SNAP, but it would create another paperwork burden on state agencies and recipients. If a household struggled to verify their utility bills, their SNAP benefit would be reduced—making it harder for families to put food on the table.
Ineffective child support enforcement provisions
The bill would require custodial and noncustodial parents applying for SNAP to cooperate with their states’ child support enforcement agencies as a condition of eligibility. Currently, states have the option to disqualify parents who fail to cooperate with child support enforcement; however, they’ve overwhelmingly declined this option because it’s burdensome and costly to implement and doesn’t result in meaningful support for children.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that mandating this option will increase federal costs by $3.4 billion over 10 years (taking into account administrative costs as well as the cost savings from the non-compliance likely to occur as a result of mandating child support cooperation).
The wrong way forward
The House farm bill burdens households with unnecessary paperwork to receive the food assistance they need and imposes harsh sanctions for noncompliance with ineffective and unfunded work requirements. The bill would limit states’ ability to streamline eligibility options and would have immediate and long-term consequences for individuals and families seeking food assistance.
We urge Congress to honor decades of bipartisanship by rejecting these proposals. Don’t impose a massive bureaucracy and unnecessary paperwork requirements. Don’t prevent states from streamlining benefit delivery. And, don’t increase burdens and hardships for workers and families.