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Farm Bill Stalls Over SNAP Work Rules

Most SNAP-eligible households include children. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the House version of the Farm Bill would end or reduce benefits for nearly 2 million people. (sidwic.org)
Most SNAP-eligible households include children. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the House version of the Farm Bill would end or reduce benefits for nearly 2 million people. (sidwic.org)
September 19, 2018

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Congress may not be able to finish a new Farm Bill by the end of the month, when the old one expires. One deadlock is a controversial plan to cut access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Josh Protas, vice president for public policy at the Jewish hunger-relief group MAZON. said conservative House Republicans are insisting on adding work requirements for eligibility for SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. He said that isn't popular, even with some Senate Republicans, but Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, is holding out.

"Farm income is down right now; agricultural producers are being impacted by the trade wars and tariffs," Protas said. "So, their interests are really being put at risk by those who are trying to make harmful cuts to SNAP."

Conaway and others argue that tougher work rules are necessary to push people into employment. Food banks have said state experiments with similar rules have shown almost everyone on SNAP that can work has a job or is looking. They have said the work rules don't increase employment, just the demand at food pantries.

Food banks have estimated that the House proposal means SNAP would provide 9 billion fewer meals over 10 years. Kate Leone, senior vice president for government relations for the group Feeding America, said the House proposal includes more job training and government commodities for pantries, but she contended it wouldn't be enough.

"For every one meal that our network of food banks provides, SNAP provides 12," Leone said. "That gap that would be created is something that we just simply can't make up."

The House Farm Bill barely passed on a near party-line vote. The Senate version, without the SNAP work rules, passed 86-11.

Protas said the conference committee might still be able to hash out the differences at the last minute, "but time is quickly running out. Whatever Farm Bill comes out of the conference committee will need to go to the Congressional Budget Office to be analyzed in terms of its budget impacts, so they're quickly running out of time."

President Donald Trump has tweeted that he prefers the work rules.

Details of the House bill are online at congress.gov, and more on the Senate bill is at cbpp.org.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - SD