The U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee released its draft of the 2018 Farm Bill Thursday, which included major changes to the federal food stamp program.
House Ag Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, introduced the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, which according to the committee replaces an insufficient and unenforceable work requirement with a realistic option that works as a springboard out of poverty.
Congressman Roger Marshall, R-Kan., hosted a town hall meeting at the 3i Show last month in Dodge City. During the discussion, he said ag committee Democrats walked away from discussions on the Farm Bill over the work requirement for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which accounts for around 80 percent of Farm Bill spending.
Under current law, SNAP recipients ages 18 to 59 are required to work at least a part-time job or take a job if offered to them unless they are pregnant, disabled or otherwise exempt. Unemployed, childless adults are required to find a job within three months or they lose benefits.
The new bill proposes a single standard for all non-disabled adults ages 18 to 59. Even adults with children enrolled in SNAP would be required to hold at least a part-time job within one month of applying for SNAP benefits. An exemption is included for adults with children under age 6.
The Farm bill also proposes funding an expansion of state “workfare” programs. For the first time, enrollment in these programs would be mandated for unemployed, working-age SNAP recipients, not otherwise exempt.
“Ensuring an affordable food supply is important to every citizen, but it is absolutely critical to the most vulnerable among us who struggle every week to put food on the table,” Conaway said in a release announcing the reauthorization of SNAP. “The farm bill also keeps faith with these families by not only maintaining SNAP benefits, but by offering SNAP beneficiaries a springboard out of poverty to a good paying job, and opportunity for a better way of life for themselves and their families.”
However, some experts are concerned people may be forced into these programs with no funding to follow.
“There’s a kernel of a good idea here,” Kermit Kaleba, federal policy director at the National Skills Coalition, which advocates for workforce development programs told The Washington Post. “There is a lot of evidence that high-quality employment and training programs help people with relatively low basic skills move out of minimum wage jobs and into family-supporting careers. The challenge is that these programs are not cheap to run. And our concern, based on what we’ve heard so far, is that it isn’t clear [the Republican proposal] will make a sufficient investment.”
Democrats in the House Agriculture Committee have said they will unanimously oppose the bill in its current form. The current law, established in the 2014 Farm Bill, expires Sept. 30.
The text of the House Farm Bill can be viewed here.
The Washington Post contributed to this story.