The Republican farm bill proposal would cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits by more than $20 billion over 10 years and reduce enrollment through expanded work requirements and stricter eligibility rules, according to Democratic aides.
The cuts are fueling Democratic resistance to the bill that caused Rep. Mike Conaway, the Texas Republican who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, to postpone committee action until April.
The draft bill, which has not been released, would save $7.2 billion through the bill’s expanded work requirements, which would shrink SNAP caseloads by an estimated 3 percent per month, the aides said, citing estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.
The legislation would require able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 64 to work or be enrolled in employment and training programs, which would be expanded under the bill. Parents of children under 12 would be exempted. About 3 million to 5 million people would be covered by the requirements, said the aides, who briefed reporters only on the bill's nutrition title.
Another $6.6 billion in benefits would be cut by preventing the states from using low-income housing assistance in calculating income and benefit levels. SNAP recipients would be required to start submitting utility bills for calculation of benefits.
The bill would save an additional $4.6 billion, and reduce nationwide SNAP enrollment by about 400,000, by eliminating the use of “broad-based categorical eligibility” that allows people in many states to qualify for SNAP at incomes above the federal cut-off, which is 130 percent of the poverty level.
About 41 million were enrolled in SNAP as of December, the latest month for which data are available. Without any changes in law, CBO has estimated that SNAP enrollment would fall to about 32 million by 2027. The program was projected to cost $67 billion for fiscal 2018.
The bill also would use SNAP to increase the collection of child-support payments, but the proposal actually would cost the government more than it would save, according to the Democratic aides.
The child-support crackdown would cost $6.6 billion to administer while reducing benefits by just $3.5 billion.
The bill offsets about $1 billion of the overall benefit cuts by increasing the minimum benefit allotment and raising current asset limits to make it easier for people to qualify for the program. The bill also would require states to provide at least three months of transitional benefits to people moving off the program. States currently have the option to provide transitional benefits for up to five months.
But those “sweeteners,” which are intended to get Democrats to vote for the legislation, “fail to bridge the gap” created by the reduction in benefits, according to a Democratic staff summary the proposal.
Conaway has said that all of the savings from the benefit reductions would be kept within the nutrition title, but the Democratic staffers said it is not clear where all of that money is going.
About $6 billion would be put toward running the state employment and training programs, but the Democratic summary says that the E&T requirement would create a “new, massive nationwide bureaucracy” without sufficient evidence about what are the best ways to help SNAP beneficiaries find employment, the Democratic summary says. Money would be better used to expand existing pilot E&T programs authorized by the 2014 farm bill, the summary said.
The Democratic aides emphasized that the cost estimates are likely to shift as the bill language is adjusted. But the fact that committee Democrats decided to detail the provisions of the bill’s nutrition title before it is released emphasizes the severity of the partisan impasse over the legislation.
The committee's ranking member, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, said last week that his Democratic colleagues were unlikely to drop their opposition to the bill. “Our side is so poisoned to this that if I came to them and said that I wanted to do something they’d hand me my head. It’s just the reality. I don’t like being in this position, but it is what it is," he said.
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