Millions would lose food stamps under Conaway draft
Several million people would be likely to leave the food stamp program in order to create job training programs under a farm bill draft released today by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas.
The bill makes few changes to the farm programs that were written in the 2014 farm bill, but the changes to food stamps — formally the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — to emphasize work requirements are likely to be highly controversial among anti-hunger advocates, the grocery store industry and Democrats.
Although SNAP requires program participants to sign a paper that they will accept a job if one is offered and has an education and training component, the program going back to the 1960s and 1970s has been primarily a program to feed people who are deemed in need of food because their incomes are so low.
But Conaway wants to change the mandate for the program.
“People want to believe the American dream is attainable.That’s why we need to shift the conversation on poverty in this country from one focused purely on benefits to one about improving futures,” Conaway wrote today in USA Today.
Although the legislation is called the farm bill, SNAP issues are likely to dominate the debate. The entire bill is expected to cost $867 billion over 10 years, the same amount that that the Congressional Budget Office has estimated is the cost of current programs. Of that nutrition spending is expected to make up 70 to 80 percent of the cost.
According to briefing materials provided to reporters, all SNAP beneficiaries would be required to work or be in job training programs except for children, people over 59, the disabled and women who are pregnant or taking care of children under 6.
Of the 42 million people receiving SNAP benefits, only 5.5 million to 6 million people would come under the new work requirements, and it is difficult to calculate how many of them would stay on the program. Of those beneficiaries, 3.5 million are classified as “able-bodied adults without dependents,” a category whose benefits are already restricted if they do not find work.
That “ABAWD” category would be eliminated and the work requirements would be applied to all beneficiaries except those that get waivers. At present the general work requirement applies to people ages 18 to 59 and the tougher ABAWD requirement is for people 18 to 49.
Applicants would have 30 days to get a job or enter a state work training program under the proposed rules.
States would have two years to make the transition to the new rules. Under the proposal, the federal government would send the states $90 million the first year for employment and training, $250 million the second year and $1 billion per year after that. The money would be disseminated based on a state’s population. States would have the discretion to decide how to spend the money on such programs as an employment service or training.
Conaway and his staff resist the characterization that the new work requirements will throw people off the program because people who do not agree to get a job or job training for 20 hours per week will “self-select” to opt out of the program.
But House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has said people who are getting as little as $100 per month in benefits will not agree to sit in a classroom for 80 hours to get that benefit. The states will be expected to run the job training programs, and even though the federal government would send the savings from the reduced rolls to the states for job training, Peterson said it will not be enough to run a good job training program.
The bill also eliminates a category of beneficiaries known as “broadbased category eligibility.” That means an estimated 300,000 SNAP beneficiaries would need to go through a complicated application process to keep their benefits. They would also have to fulfill the work requirements.
In other ways, the bill will make it easier for people to qualify for SNAP. The amounts that SNAP applicants are allowed to keep in savings will be raised and the value of a vehicle that does not affect a benefits application will be raised from $4,650 to $12,000.
The Congressional Budget Office has also estimated that 7 million people will leave the SNAP rolls over the next 10 years if the economy remains in good shape or improves.
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