A sign noting the acceptance of electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards that are used by state welfare departments to issue benefits is displayed at a grocery store on Dec. 4, 2019, in Oakland, California. The holiday weekend debt ceiling deal struck by President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy preserves in part new work requirements for some food stamp recipients but now with exceptions for certain populations, including veterans. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The holiday weekend debt ceiling deal struck by President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy preserves in part new work requirements for some food stamp recipients but now with exceptions for certain populations, including veterans.
The agreement released late Saturday night showed concessions from both sides — from GOP members, who wanted to tighten eligibility for not just food stamps but also low-income health care, and from the Democrats, who called such restrictions a nonstarter.
The Biden administration and the Republican House majority arrived at a compromise, titled the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the day after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned the U.S. would default if a deal wasn’t brokered by June 5.
Work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and other government benefits were a sticking point during the months of stalemate leading right up to the edge of Treasury exhausting all reserves to pay the nation’s bills.
The House is expected to vote on the deal by late evening Wednesday, after which the bill will head to the Democratic-led Senate.
New work rules
The Fiscal Responsibility Act proposes additional work requirements, with a sunset date of 2030, for adults without dependents age 18 to 55, unless the recipient has veteran status, is a homeless person or is under 24 and aging out of the foster care system.
The House GOP majority maintains the new rules would “lift Americans out of poverty” and that the “consequential reforms” will “save taxpayer dollars, get Americans back to work, and grow the economy,” according to a document released Saturday by the office of GOP Majority Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota.
The move softens McCarthy’s original proposal that raised the work requirements for food assistance beneficiaries without dependents up to age 55 without exceptions for veterans, homeless people or young adults exiting foster care.
As the law stands now, all recipients of federal nutrition aid ages 16 to 59 must either be looking for work, enrolled in a SNAP employment training program, or pulling in wages equivalent to 30 hours per week at the federal minimum wage.
Some exceptions exist, for example, for people who already have a job, are physically or mentally unable, or are caring for a child under 6.
Those considered able-bodied adults ages 18 to 49 are subject to additional rules and must work for pay, attend a training program or volunteer 80 hours a month — though some states can waive these requirements depending on unemployment figures and other factors.
Beneficiaries in that age range who don’t meet the current additional work requirements, and cannot secure an exemption, can only receive SNAP benefits, formerly called food stamps, for three months over a three-year period.
The left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated that raising the age to 55 would have put food assistance in jeopardy for roughly 1 million adults without dependents.
In a statement Sunday, the center’s president, Sharon Parrott, called the new proposal a “significant improvement over the radical House bill.”
But she continued: “It is not the deal the country deserves. There are a number of troubling elements, including the provision that will put at risk food assistance for very low-income older adults. This policy will increase hunger and poverty among that group, runs contrary to our nation’s values, and should be rejected. The nation must pay its bills — but that shouldn’t mean enacting legislation that leaves people who already struggle to afford the basics worse off.”
The most conservative wing of the GOP demanded McCarthy tie spending cuts to a debt ceiling increase in exchange for their support in securing McCarthy the speaker’s gavel.
The original debt ceiling proposal — the Limit, Save, Grow Act that was narrowly approved by the GOP House majority — included the expanded SNAP work rules along with new work requirements for Medicaid recipients, and for the poorest Americans who rely on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF.
Together those expanded welfare requirements would have cut $100 billion and $120 billion in government spending over the next ten years, according to respective analyses from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and Moody’s Analytics. But, as both analyses concluded, the Limit, Save, Grow Act’s clawback of new IRS funding, passed in 2022 to modernize tax collection, would have offset that savings by costing the government roughly $100 billion over the next decade.
“Oh, Republicans want to reduce the deficit? I’ve got an easy idea – tax the rich,” tweeted Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Washington congresswoman and head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which is criticizing the White House for agreeing to any new SNAP work requirements.
Some limitations on TANF made it into Saturday’s agreement, but work requirements for Medicaid were dropped.
The Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan body that calculates the cost and savings of legislation, has not yet released its score of the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
Shalanda Young, director of the U.S. Office Management and Budget, said Tuesday at the White House press briefing that the administration does not yet have an estimate for how many SNAP recipients will be subject to the new work requirements.
“Some people who have these requirements now will no longer if they’re homeless, if they’re veterans, if they’re foster youth aged out of the system up to 24. So the analysis is being finalized, but we believe those who are off of those requirements because of those exemptions, will be about the same number as those who are phased in on age,” said Young, who was among the negotiators for the new deal.
“And you have to remember this: This entire SNAP change (will) sunset in 2030 to give Congress a chance to see how the new exemptions work and how the new ages work,” she continued. “And (Congress) can opine on a future farm bill if these changes have made a difference in the SNAP program.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP, analyzes the number of beneficiaries and any changes to the program. Nutrition programs make up the majority of the multi-year omnibus legislation referred to as the farm bill.
Congress is in the process of negotiating a new farm bill, which reauthorizes spending for food and agriculture programs.
The idea for expanding SNAP work requirements gained traction in March when Republican Rep. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota, a member of the House Committee on Agriculture, introduced the America Works Act, which proposed adjusting the work rules for recipients up to 65.
Johnson’s office did not respond to an inquiry on whether the congressman would push for the tightened rules under the farm bill.
A congressional aide for the GOP-led House Agriculture Committee said the effort is unlikely. Attempts to re-litigate work requirements for SNAP during the farm bill process would present an unnecessary hurdle in drafting and passing a timely, bipartisan farm bill, the aide said.
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