WASHINGTON ― A long-awaited Republican food stamp plan would partially shift spending from benefits to training programs, according to Democratic House staff who’ve seen a draft of the legislation.
The proposal to reauthorize the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program would subject more enrollees to “work requirements,” and would require states to set up training programs for 3 to 5 million people who might be unable to find suitable private sector work. Such programs currently serve 700,000 SNAP recipients.
“A new, massive nationwide bureaucracy is not good policy,” a Democratic summary says.
The author of the bill, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who’s been holding hearings on overhauling food stamps since 2015, said this week that nobody would be kicked off food stamps under his plan.
“Either they got a job that’s paying more money,” Conaway told the “Adams on Agriculture” podcast Wednesday, “or they decide for themselves that meeting these requirements to get the training or get a job is not worth working 20 hours a week on and they self-select and get off.”
Conaway has said in recent weeks that his SNAP overhaul wouldn’t reduce federal spending on the program. According to the Democratic summary, “the billions of dollars in cuts to food benefits would be used to create state bureaucracies.”
Democrats say the work requirements proposal could potentially deny benefits to 3 percent of enrollees in 2028, which could amount to nearly 1 million people that year.
With roughly 42 million beneficiaries, SNAP is one of the biggest safety net programs in the U.S. Monthly benefits average $125 per person and can be redeemed for almost any food item in a grocery store. Thanks to existing work requirements and an improving economy, enrollment has been declining since 2013. Budget experts expect it to continue to fall by another 10 million if current trends hold for the next decade.
Agriculture committees in the House and Senate traditionally reauthorize food stamps as part of a “farm bill” every five years. The bill also includes farm subsidies, but nutrition assistance makes up the bulk of the spending.
The draft of the Republican plan includes other proposals that Democrats dislike. One such proposal involves stricter eligibility standards, like requiring more SNAP applicants to document their income and expenses even if they already qualify for another means-tested federal program. Democratic staffers also say a proposal to crack down on noncustodial parents who fail to pay child support would cost more than it would save.
It’s not clear how Conaway’s legislation could become law without significant Democratic support, since Democrats control enough Senate seats to block any legislation outside of a special budget process that will probably be unavailable this year. And potential opposition from conservative Republicans could make it difficult for Conaway even to get the bill through the House.
When Conaway started holding hearings on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program three years ago, he said he had no “preconceived notions” about how he wanted to change the program. Conaway has apparently ignored a Trump administration proposal to replace some SNAP benefits with boxes of canned goods, Democrats said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who has tightly controlled House legislation during his speakership, has previously proposed increasing “work requirements” while holding funding constant for food stamps and other programs.
Agriculture Committee member Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) told HuffPost last week that testimony during Conaway’s 23 hearings on SNAP didn’t support the idea of increased work requirements.
“I think this title is being written in the speaker’s office,” McGovern said. “It certainly is not a product of the Agriculture Committee.”
This story has been updated to include Conaway’s remarks Wednesday.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated the year when Democrats say the work requirements proposal could cause nearly 1 million people to lose benefits. It is 2028, not 2027.