Congress votes to avert debt crisis, changing food stamp and family aid programs in the process

Peltola and Murkowski voted for bill to avoid debt default; Sullivan voted against it

By: - June 2, 2023 6:13 pm
The U.S. Capitol Building is seen on Oct. 22, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The U.S. Capitol Building is seen on Oct. 22, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

As the state of Alaska works to fix a huge backlog in food-stamp applications from residents in need, Congress has thrown a new wrinkle into the effort.

The bill signed by President Joe Biden on Friday to raise the federal debt ceiling and avert a first-of-its-kind federal default also mandates changes to the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps. The end result is expected to allow more Alaskans to receive food stamps without working.

Some older Alaskans will be required to work or attend training programs for at least 80 hours per month if they want to receive more than three months’ worth of food stamps in a three-year period. Currently, anyone older than 49 doesn’t need to meet that requirement. The bill raises the age cutoff to 54 by 2025.

The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that as many as 2,000 Alaskans could lose access to food stamps because of the change.

That’s almost certainly higher than what will actually happen because the bill also adds new exemptions to the work requirement for veterans, homeless people, and former foster children up through age 24.

Some states already exempted people who fell into those categories. Alaska did not, and the change is likely to be significant here. More than 8.8% of Alaska’s residents are military veterans, by far the highest proportion in the country. (In Virginia, the No. 2 state, the proportion is slightly more than 7.7%.)

Nationally, the Congressional Budget Office said it expects the changes to result in more people receiving food stamps.

The bill also changes the work requirements for the federally funded Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which gives cash payments to poor families with children.

The federal government requires half of a state’s participating families to be working in order for the state to receive full aid, but there are credits that can reduce that requirement if a state shows progress in reducing the number of families receiving aid.

In Alaska, 30.7% of families receiving aid meet the work standard, but because of credits, the target is only 8%. The new federal debt-ceiling law changes the way credits are distributed, and depending on the state’s performance, it may miss the new target, potentially losing federal funding.

Among Alaska’s three-person congressional delegation, Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, voted in favor of the debt-ceiling bill, as did Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. 

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, voted against the bill after unsuccessfully proposing an amendment that would have diverted more than $70 billion from the Internal Revenue Service to the military. 

Though the bill caps military spending at the highest level in American history, he said in a prepared statement that the debt-ceiling bill doesn’t include enough money for defense.

Murkowski also said that she does not believe the bill contains enough defense spending but that she expects there will be a supplemental bill later this year to include money for Ukraine and other defense priorities.

“I voted for the Fiscal Responsibility Act because it is the only way to avoid a default on the national debt just four days from now,” she said in a prepared statement. “While both the bill itself and the process that led to it were far from perfect, it will avert an economic disaster, protect the full faith and credit of the United States, and slightly improve our nation’s fiscal trajectory.”

Peltola also was measured in explaining her vote.

“This deal isn’t perfect, but it’s far better than a default,” she said in a prepared statement, noting that the bill doesn’t include cuts to Social Security and veterans’ health care, as had been previously proposed.

She also said she was pleased that the bill requires faster permitting for development projects.

“These policies will streamline … reviews and help fast-track energy storage projects, which are crucial for integrating renewable energy into our electric grid. However, while I’m relieved that we were able to avoid disaster this time, it’s clear that we can’t keep governing this way. We need to be able to talk to each other and cooperate without the threat of economic collapse.” 


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James Brooks
James Brooks

James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. A graduate of Virginia Tech, he is married to Caitlyn Ellis, owns a house in Juneau and has a small sled dog named Barley. He can be contacted at [email protected].