SNAP Participants Need Food and Education & Training: Farm Bill Scrimps on Both

By Anna Cielinski

The 2018 Farm Bill, H.R. 2, introduced by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) on April 12, would profoundly undermine access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). On its surface, Chairman Conaway’s proposal seems like an investment in the workforce development system. Instead, this bill would expand mandatory work requirements and impose an unfunded mandate on states for employment and training services, all while putting crucial food assistance at risk for millions. Workforce development professionals know what it takes to develop high-quality, robust services to help low-income people advance on a career pathway to meaningful work.  Chairman’s Conaway is the wrong approach.

Under the bill, adults (ages 18-59) who are not disabled and do not have children under age 6 would be required to work, participate in a qualified employment or training program, or a do combination of work and training for 20 hours per week. The requirement would rise to 25 hours per week in Fiscal Year 2026. Failure to meet this requirement would mean loss of SNAP benefits for one year, with subsequent occurrences carrying a penalty of three years. Using administrative data from 2016 and taking into account caseload declines, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that states could be forced to track participation for nearly 8 million people each month, requiring the creation of massive, resource-intensive bureaucratic systems. Roughly 3 million of these individuals will need to be provided a slot in employment or training services to meet the requirement. This sharply increased demand is a scale greater than any existing program has the capacity to serve.

The new administrative system necessary to track participation would be paid for with cuts to SNAP generated through changes in eligibility and savings from the expected number of individuals who would simply not be able to meet the new work requirements. The bill would re-direct $1 billion per year to pay for the associated administrative costs, as well as employment and training services. Examples from other programs (including SNAP and TANF) have shown us that mandatory work requirements do not lead to work, and taking food away from people makes them less able to succeed in work or training.  

The funding for work programs in the bill is inadequate to provide the high-quality services that workforce development leaders have cultivated over many years. The Farm Bill would offer states an average of just $30 per month per participant to provide an employment and training service slot for the millions of individuals who would need one. This minimal level of funding would force states to create low-touch services that have not been proven effective for long-term employment success. Instead, high-quality employment and training services for low-income people provide integrated, contextualized education and training, combined with support services that lead to credentials valued in the labor market and to jobs with family-sustaining wages. They can cost $7,500-$14,000 per participant, far exceeding what would be available under this proposal. Even more typical programs that cost $4,000 to $5,000 per participant would not be attainable under the proposed funding. 

Financing workforce development for low-income people by taking food off the table is a misguided approach. SNAP participants need food and high-quality education and training to move into jobs with family-sustaining wages. Workforce development organizations, advocates, and practitioners should join nutrition advocates in urging Congress to reject this poorly thought-out proposal.