An additional 1.5 million able-bodied, non-senior Americans would no longer be exempt from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program work requirements under a bill being introduced by Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., and 17 GOP colleagues. 

“There’s no reliable pathway out of poverty that doesn’t require work and education,” Johnson told Agri-Pulse on Monday. “As somebody who spent time growing up on SNAP benefits, I saw firsthand the impact work can have.”

Current SNAP work requirements apply to able-bodied adults without dependents, known as ABAWDS, between ages 18 and 49. Johnson's would extend the work requirements to able-bodied adults as old as 65.

The bill also would restrict an existing exemption for parents with dependent children. Under current rules those adults are exempt if they're caring for children under 18. Johnson's bill would limit the exemption to families with children under 7. 

Able-bodied adults who aren't exempt from the work requirements can receive SNAP benefits for only three months in a three-year period unless they are employed at least 80 hours a month or they participate in a work program for 80 hours a month or a combination of work and work training for 80 hours.

A House-passed farm bill in 2018 would have raised the maximum ABAWD age to 59, but the provision was stripped out of the final legislation at the insistence of Senate Democrats. 

Johnson said the previous threshold of 49 “didn’t make a lot of sense” and his bill would better harmonize the work requirements with what people commonly view as the retirement age. Saving taxpayer money is “not a motivating factor” in the bill, he said.

He said the SNAP safety net is needed for those who are currently exempt, including those who are pregnant, medically certified as physically or mentally unfit for employment, or a parent or other member of a household with responsibility for a dependent child under 7 years of age.

Johnson said he grew up in a family of “modest means,” but had the advantage of seeing parents who worked hard, sometimes with two jobs, to create a better life for his family. “You can’t get out of poverty without hard work,” he said.  

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A senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, told Agri-Pulse that Republicans would doom a farm bill this year if they insist on making these proposed changes to SNAP.

“They’re showing us their hand,” McGovern said of the proposal. “If we go down this road, it will be impossible to get a farm bill,” McGovern said.

Other co-sponsors of the bill include Chuck Edwards, R-N.C., Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, Jake Ellzey, R-Texas, Mary Miller, R-Ill., Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., August Pfluger, R-Texas, Lori Chavez-DeRemer, R-Ore., Josh Brecheen, R-Okla., Jen Kiggans, R-Va., Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, Troy Nehls, R-Texas, Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., Mark Alford, R-Mo., Andy Ogles, R-Tenn., Max Miller, R-Ohio, Pat Fallon, R-Texas, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., Glen Grothman, R-Wisc., Randy Weber, R-Texas, Tim Walberg, R-Mich., and Michael Cloud, R-Texas.

Johnson as well as Feenstra, Mary Miller, Max Miller, Chavez-DeRemer and Mark Alford are members of the House Ag Committee. 

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