Labor leaders and advocates warn of the negative impact of privatizing SNAP’s workforce 


June 12, 2024

Labor leaders and other advocates are sounding the alarm on two provisions in the House farm bill that would allow states to privatize the employees who administer SNAP benefits – a move that they say would threaten the integrity of the nutrition assistance program as well as endanger workers. 

In a letter delivered to Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA), Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and Rep. David Scott (D-GA), the senior Democrat on the committee, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which has 1.4 million members, warned that the provisions would “undermine, erode or eliminate the current federal requirements for SNAP to be administered by workers under a merit-based personnel system.” 

The House version of the farm bill, unlike the proposal from Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), has been widely criticized in part because it would cut SNAP benefits by nearly $30 billion over a 10-year period. Although the AFSCME letter noted this potential cut, it focused primarily on the effort to privatize SNAP workers, who perform a range of tasks including screening clients for eligibility, determining benefit levels, answering clients’ questions, and pursuing missing information.“[W]e strongly oppose the Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024 pending before the committee because it would deeply cut future SNAP benefits by nearly $30 billion over the next decade, take away good union jobs and harm program integrity,” the AFSCME letter states. “Tens of thousands of AFSCME members under merit-based personnel systems are proud to administer SNAP benefits because SNAP is the cornerstone of the nation’s nutrition and food security safety net, helping to put food on the table for 41.2 million low-income participants each month.” 

One of the provisions in the bill is similar to H.R. 5094, the so-called SNAP Staffing Flexibility Act of 2023, a measure that did not advance but is favored by a body representing some state legislators, the National Conference of State Legislatures.  

The anti-labor provisions also drew the opposition of the AFL-CIO, with its 12.5 million members and 60 affiliate unions. “Merit staff are essential for conducting SNAP eligibility screenings and maintaining program integrity,” the AFL-CIO said in a letter to House Agriculture Committee leaders. “Privatization, as evident in failed experiments in Texas and Indiana, wastes taxpayer dollars and harms program beneficiaries.” 

In addition, last month leading anti-hunger groups joined labor unions in a letter outlining principles for a Farm Bill that protects and strengthens nutrition programs and “Invests in the workforce helping SNAP beneficiaries and preserves merit staffing to help beneficiaries navigate the program and receive full benefits, receive timely and unbiased assistance, and ensure confidentiality for the documentation submitted to qualify.” 

An AFSCME fact sheet found that privatization experiments in administering SNAP have resulted in increased costs, worsening backlogs, and heightened error rates. “A Texas State Comptroller’s report on the failed Texas privatization effort concluded it ‘failed the state and the citizens it was designed to serve’ and called the privatization effort ‘a perfect story of wasted tax dollars, reduced access to services and profiteering at taxpayers’ expense,’” the group wrote. 

The Coalition on Human Needs has distributed an action alert in opposition to the House version of the farm bill. It notes the potential harmful effect of privatization. “Where this has been tried, replacing merit-based staff resulted in corporate skimping on careful help to people applying for or renewing benefits in order to maximize profits,” the alert states. 

So far, more than 23,500 people have taken action in response to the alert. You can take action here.