CHN: Advocates Defeat House Farm Bill that Included Harmful SNAP Provisions

In a major victory for advocates and low-income families, Representatives on May 18 rejected (198-213) the House Farm Bill, legislation that includes the reauthorization SNAP/food stamps. Thirty Republicans joined all Democrats in opposing the partisan bill, which contained deep cuts and harmful changes to SNAP. Advocacy groups from all across the spectrum – including faith, veterans, disability rights, children’s groups and more – banded together to urge Representatives to oppose the bill and defend SNAP, and they saw the bill’s defeat as a rejection of Speaker Ryan and President Trump’s push to cut SNAP and add harmful work requirements to a number of public benefits. Some members of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus also opposed the bill because they wanted the GOP leadership to first take up a conservative-backed immigration bill that advocates opposed.

Advocates strongly oppose the proposed changes to SNAP, which the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) estimates would cause more than 1 million low-income households with more than 2 million people – particularly low-income working families with children – to lose their benefits altogether or have them reduced. In particular, the plan includes sweeping, even stricter work requirements than those already in place. Under the bill, adults ages 18 to 59 who aren’t raising a child under 6 and aren’t determined to be permanently disabled to prove monthly that they are working or participating in job-training programs for at least 20 hours a week to receive SNAP benefits. For many, these requirements would serve as time limits, as they would be kicked off SNAP for failing to be able to meet the new demands and/or the onerous paperwork requirements. The bill would also restrict states’ abilities to waive the work requirements, including for areas with high unemployment, and eliminates or rolls back states’ flexibility in determining who can access SNAP. This change would re-impose a benefit cliff, cutting families off of SNAP when they earn slightly more than the federal eligibility cutoff of 130 percent of the federal poverty level; create more paperwork and bureaucracy for beneficiaries and states; and result in roughly 265,000 children in low-income families losing access to free meals at school. In all, the bill as written would cut SNAP benefits by more than $17 billion, net. (That is, there are $23.1 billion in SNAP benefit cuts, offset by $5.8 billion in other benefit improvements, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.)

More than 50 amendments were offered on the bill, including some that would make the bill even more harmful. One amendment that passed, for example, would impose a lifetime ban on SNAP benefits for people convicted of certain violent crimes. Another, which also passed, would allow states to contract out SNAP administrative functions, which could disrupt services and compromise recipients’ privacy. According to CBPP, another amendment that passed would deepen the SNAP cuts from $17.3 billion to $18.8 billion, cause another 600,000 people to lose SNAP benefits in 2021, and make the work requirements even more rigid.

Advocates are quick to point out that most people who get SNAP and can work do work, and that there is already a strict three-month time limit in place for able-bodied adults ages 18-50 without children who aren’t working 20 hours a week. Advocates also point out that access to medical care, food, and housing are critical to keeping people healthy, which allows them to work.

Because some of the votes against the bill were by right-wing members seeking a restrictive immigration bill, it is possible that the Farm Bill will return to the House floor, if the House leadership can work out a deal to satisfy those members. Both anti-hunger advocates and those seeking help for the Dreamers and other immigrants are continuing their work towards preventing harmful legislation and enacting real improvements.

According to the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) will soon announce a date in June when their bipartisan Farm Bill will be taken up in committee; this version has not yet been released. For more information, see the April 23 Human Needs Report, CHN’s Protecting Basic Needs resource page, and the recording of a webinar CHN cosponsored with CBPP, Feeding America, and FRAC.

Farm Bill
Food and Nutrition