House Farm Bill Would Sabotage SNAP

This week, the House Agriculture Committee will consider legislation to reauthorize the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), our nation’s largest nutrition program. If enacted, the changes proposed by Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) would add red tape to SNAP and endanger millions of people who are food insecure.

As our flagship domestic nutrition program, SNAP provides 42 million people a modest monthly benefit that helps them to put food on their table, and often fills the gap between having enough to eat and going hungry. SNAP helps children, seniors, working families, veterans, low-wage workers, and many more. In addition to the immediate positive effects of SNAP, research shows that the program improves long-term health and education outcomes for recipients.

Proposed changes to work requirements

The Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (also known as the “farm bill”) would make sweeping changes to SNAP’s work requirements, adding new bureaucracy and an underfunded state mandate. It would impose new, stricter requirements on people aged 18 to 59 who are not pregnant and do not have children under age 6; if they’re unable to work or participate in training at least 20 hours per week, they’ll lose access to SNAP.

Under the proposed work requirements, states would need to create massive tracking systems to document SNAP participation for millions of people, as well as provide opportunities that enable them to meet the requirements. This would be funded by decreasing benefit amounts or disenrolling people altogether. Redirecting funding from participants to paperwork is a waste of resources that actively prevents people from finding and keeping work. Furthermore, most SNAP recipients who are expected to work already do.

The bill ignores crucial lessons from existing work requirements in SNAP and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)—making clear its intent to kick people off of assistance. Imposing work requirements ignores the reality of low-wage work, which is often temporary and part time and forces workers to accept volatile schedules. Contrary to Chairman Conaway’s claims, many people who are working would lose benefits if they fail to keep up with constant paperwork documenting their hours of work.

Cutting SNAP through eligibility changes and red tape

The bill would deny SNAP to many working families, particularly those with major child care or housing expenses. It would also bring back the benefit cliff, which happens when a small increase in earnings results in a large decrease in benefits. It would take away states’ flexibility to use a policy called “broad-based categorical eligibility” to lift SNAP’s gross income limit. Over half of all states use this policy to help working families transition off the program incrementally as their household incomes rise. Eliminating the option would rip away benefits from 400,000 working families.

Another provision in the bill would increase red tape by imposing paperwork requirements for utility deductions that affect monthly benefit amounts. It would sever the connection between SNAP and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and require non-elderly households to submit paperwork showing their utility costs in order to receive the standard utility deduction. This would create unnecessary headaches for states and participants, resulting in lower monthly benefits. Furthermore, the bill would bring back asset tests in more than 40 states that previously eliminated this additional hurdle in the eligibility determination process. Very few people who otherwise qualify for SNAP have meaningful savings. However, asset tests create administrative hassles and discourage saving for a car, home, education, or small business.

Additionally, the bill would require custodial and noncustodial parents applying for SNAP to cooperate with their state’s child support enforcement agency. States currently have the option to do this, but the overwhelming majority have concluded the requirement is burdensome and costly to implement and doesn’t increase support for children.

The House farm bill is a dead end for SNAP recipients

Chairman Conway’s bill is an attack on our most important, effective nutrition program. If enacted, it would undermine decades of progress reducing hunger and food insecurity. The farm bill has historically received support from both sides of the aisle; however, this proposal prioritizes politics over the needs of children, families, seniors, individuals with disabilities, and others who need help to put food on the table.

We ask Congress to reflect on SNAP’s proud history fighting hunger and food insecurity. We urge the House Agriculture Committee, along with the House of Representatives, to honor decades of bipartisanship by rejecting these proposals to sabotage SNAP and empty people’s cupboards.