SNAP Work Requirements in Farm Bill Would Increase Hunger, Not Employment

SNAP Work Requirements in Farm Bill Would Increase Hunger, Not Employment

There has been shockingly little discussion about provisions in the House Farm Bill that would drastically alter the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, and cut or eliminate benefits for about two million people. The bill is set to be voted on today (unless the House Freedom Caucus stalls it to prioritize an immigration vote).

SNAP already has work requirements that largely affect adults without children, but Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee, without any Democratic support or input, have moved forward with a bill that contains harsh new requirements for families with children, requiring recipients to diligently document work hours—at least 20 hours per week—every month.

Republicans and Trump administration officials have pointed to two studies of similar reforms in Kansas and Maine as proof that such requirements are effective in helping people find work. But an analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has found that those studies are misleading because they use incomplete or misleading data. For example, the studies only looked at work rates of adults after they had been kicked off the program for not meeting new work requirements, ignoring the fact that they had worked at comparable rates even before they were sanctioned off the program.

The House bill would “undermine almost two decades of progress in simplifying, streamlining, and modernizing SNAP so it’s easy for families to use,” said Dottie Rosenbaum, senior fellow at CBPP and author of a new report on the Farm Bill, in a call with reporters.

The bill would also reinstate a “benefits cliff,” where families could lose their SNAP benefits as soon as they report higher earnings, pushing economic security further out of reach. Another provision makes it mandatory for mothers on SNAP to pursue unpaid child care, which could pressure domestic abuse survivors to rely on their abusers or leave the program. And these requirements would significantly increase SNAP’s bureaucracy and make the program more expensive and harder to navigate.

A better way to help people find good work would be to create voluntary, intensive job training programs. But these programs are extremely expensive to operate, and the funds on offer in the Republican bill don’t amount to much—just about $360 per person, per year. A good job training program that builds skills and leads to solid employment costs between $7,000 and $14,000 per person, per year, according to Rosenbaum.  

At a May 8 panel on the Farm Bill at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, House Agriculture Committee Chair Mike Conaway claimed that he didn’t want to “force SNAP on anybody who doesn’t want to meet these requirements”—instead, it seems, he’d rather force people who need help off of it.