A new federal farm bill would likely result in millions of Americans losing food assistance, with more than half of those losses among families with children. Many of the losses would be the result of new work requirements, despite growing evidence that such requirements do little to help people and families climb out of poverty.
The new estimate is from the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, which earlier this week released its analysis of the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2), the massive agricultural spending package commonly referred to as the farm bill and that funds the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the food stamp program. Introduced in April by U.S. Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, the bill proposes new work requirements, new eligibility rules and new administrative challenges that would likely increase the costs to states.
Overall, CBO estimates that by 2028, the bill’s new work requirements would result in about 1.2 million adults losing SNAP benefits in an average month, when compared to current SNAP rules. About 11 percent of those 1.2 million would be childless adults ages 18 to 49, about 27 percent would be between ages 50 and 59, and 62 percent would be among households with children.
In particular, Conaway’s bill expands work requirements to adults ages 50 to 60 years old and adults with children older than 6 beginning in 2021, requiring both groups to prove on a monthly basis that they either worked or participated in a training program for 20 hours a week or risk losing food assistance. That requirement would increase to 25 hours each week in 2026. The bill also eliminates the current work requirement exemption for college students with school-age children who can’t find adequate childcare. (Keep in mind that SNAP already imposes work requirements and time limits on adults ages 18 to 49 who are not disabled and have no dependents. Sometimes such requirements are waived in response to economic crisis, such as during the Great Recession. In addition, most working-age SNAP beneficiaries already work.)
CBO estimates that the proposed work requirements would reduce spending on benefits by $9.2 billion between 2019-2028 as people lose eligibility, while administrative costs in support of the new work requirements would increase by $7.7 billion. Most of the new costs would be in the form of funds to help states create job training and educational programs. But CBO estimates that many of those programs won’t actually be up and running by the time the bill’s work requirements kick in. In particular, the agency found that “CBO expects that states would not be able to offer training to all eligible recipients when the (work) requirement takes effect in 2021, or even by the end of 2028.” According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities:
Beginning in 2021, an estimated 7 million people, including 1.5 million adults working more than half time, would have to prove every month that they met the requirement or were exempt. States would have to build expensive systems to track each of these SNAP participants every month. An estimated 3 million SNAP participants — including nearly 400,000 adults who are working but not enough to meet the 20 hour-a-week requirement — would need a job training or employment program to retain SNAP benefits. That number far exceeds current job training programs. The bill’s new funding for such programs is woefully inadequate, amounting to just $30 per month for each recipient who would need a work slot to retain benefits — well short of the cost for effective employment programs. States would find it impossible to provide high-quality job training for those that need it.”
Beyond new work requirements, Conaway’s farm bill would also eliminate a state SNAP option known as “broad-based categorical eligibility.” That option allows states to adjust SNAP criteria for families with incomes slightly above 130 percent of the poverty line, so that families don’t incur what’s known as the “cliff effect” and abruptly lose food assistance when they still need it. (Current federal SNAP rules require households be at or below 130 percent of poverty, or about $26,000 a year for a family of three, unless the household includes elderly or disabled members.)
According to the Food Research & Action Center, eliminating this state option would “particularly take SNAP away from low-income working people with children, exacerbate the ‘cliff effect’ when they improve their earnings, eliminate their children’s direct connection to free school meals, and significantly increase states’ administrative costs and burdens.”
Matt Knott, president of Feeding America, which represents a network of 200 food banks across the country, said of the new SNAP proposals: “This legislation’s SNAP provisions are held out as a means of helping unemployed individuals find jobs and obtain independence. Regrettably, making it harder for vulnerable members of our community to access food assistance does not set them on a path to self-sufficiency and success; rather it knocks them back down and makes it harder for them to work toward a better future.”
In a typical month in 2017, SNAP helped more than 40 million low-income Americans put food on the table, with the average SNAP recipient receiving about $126 a month, or about $1.40 per meal. Children, seniors and people living with disabilities make up the majority of Americans receiving help from SNAP. About one in eight people in the U.S. struggles with hunger. For more on H.R. 2 and what it could mean for Americans who need food assistance, click here, here or here.