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Explainer: House GOP proposes changes to ‘food stamp’ program

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Last week the House Agriculture Committee introduced the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, more commonly known as the Farm Bill. The new Farm Bill makes significant changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the “largest program in the domestic hunger safety net.”

What is SNAP?

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federal welfare program that provides nutritional support for low-wage working families, low-income seniors, and people with disabilities living on fixed incomes.

This program, which was formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, is used by more than 40 million Americans. SNAP benefits are provided monthly via an electronic debit card, and are available to most households with gross income less than 130 percent of the Federal poverty guidelines.

In fiscal year 2017, the federal government spent about $70 billion on SNAP and other food assistance programs. Ninety-three percent of SNAP spending went directly to benefits that households used to purchase food, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. The monthly SNAP benefits average $125.80 per person.

What role do the individual states have in SNAP?

SNAP is a federal program and the broad policy guidance is provided through USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). States or counties, though, carry out the day-to-day administration of the program. States are also responsible for the certification of households and issuance of benefits.

What changes to SNAP are being proposed in the new Farm Bill?

The main change is to implement the GOP’s goal of improving workforce development. The goal is to shift “the antipoverty conversation from one purely focused on benefits to one focused on helping someone climb the economic ladder.”

Currently, SNAP rules require all recipients to meet work requirements unless they are exempt because of age, disability, or another specific exempt reason. Since the welfare reform changes first implemented in 1996, SNAP has had a time limit for able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 49 who do not have dependents (what the program refers to as an “ABAWD”). An ABAWD can only get SNAP for three months in three years if they do not meet certain special work requirements. To be eligible beyond the time limit, the ABAWD must work at least 80 hours per month, participate in qualifying education and training activities at least 80 hours per month, or comply with a workfare program (i.e., unpaid work through a special state-approved program).

The new change would stop treating ABAWDs as a separate population from other work-capable adults. A new, single work standard would apply to adults ages 18 to 59, requiring 20 hours per week of participation in a combination of work, a work program, or participation in SNAP education and training program. Any work-capable, non-exempt SNAP beneficiary who wants to receive training will be guaranteed a federally-funded spot in a SNAP education and training program.

Who will be affected by the changes?

Almost two-thirds of all SNAP participants are in a primary exempt category: children, seniors age 60 and older, and those with disabilities. States will also maintain the authority to waive the requirement for individuals facing temporary obstacles, and geographic waivers will still be given for areas with high rates of unemployment.

Overall, about seven million adults will be subject to the new rules, according to Republican House staff.

When would the changes take effect? And what happens if the states’s don’t comply?

The legislation would give states a two-year transition period to implement the changes. After the transition period, states would need to meet the minimum services requirement and provide education and training services to all nonexempt

SNAP participants subject to the work requirement. If they do not, the state is subject to warnings, suspensions, and/or a disallowance of administrative funds. A state’s inability to offer a spot does not compromise an individual’s eligibility for SNAP.

Image source: USDA

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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