House Republicans are targeting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) work requirements as they prepare legislation to raise the debt ceiling, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a speech Monday. 

Addressing the New York Stock Exchange, McCarthy said the GOP proposal will “restore work requirements that ensure able-bodied adults without dependents earn a paycheck and learn new skills that grow the economy and help the supply chain.”

The vote on the debt ceiling, McCarthy said, will be "in the coming weeks." He has not spoken with President Joe Biden about the issue since Feb. 1, he said. 

McCarthy said food assistance work requirements were “weakened” during the Biden administration. During the pandemic, work requirements were relaxed, but go back into full effect on May 11.

“Incentives matter. And incentives today are out of whack,” McCarthy said, claiming that the way food assistance is delivered does not motivate able-bodied individuals to return to the workforce, adding there are more job openings than people who are looking for jobs today. 

SNAP rules already limit people aged 18 to 49 to three months of assistance every three years unless they are working, are in a work or training program at least 20 hours a week, or qualify for limited exemptions.

McCarthy also mentioned SNAP work requirements in a letter he sent to Biden in March.

The House Agriculture Committee's ranking Democrat, David Scott of Georgia, criticized McCarthy's speech.

"The ransom note that Speaker McCarthy unveiled in front of a crowd of Wall Street bankers today is dead on arrival," he said in a release. "Let me be perfectly clear: holding food assistance hostage for those who depend on it, including 15.3 million of our children, 5.8 million of our seniors, and 1.2 million of our veterans, in exchange for increasing the debt limit is a non-starter."

SNAP supporters have said that, as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities put it recently, “expanding work requirements would make it harder for people to meet basic needs.”

“Growing evidence shows that these SNAP requirements increase hardship without improving employment outcomes,” CBPP said last month. Reports indicate McCarthy plans to propose a bill, but it's not known if it will contain the same provisions as proposed by Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., earlier this year to expand work requirements to able-bodied adults as old as 65 and parents with children 7 years of age and under. Parents or caregivers with a child under 18 are currently exempt.

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Similar provisions snarled congressional action on the 2018 farm bill before they were stripped in the final negotiations. 

A tweet thread from CBPP President Sharon Parrott said SNAP already has strict work requirements, which she called a “failure.” A paper released by CBPP  estimates that 10 million SNAP recipients could be at risk of losing their benefits under Johnson’s bill. 

CBPP said federal Medicaid rules do not permit work requirements, but some states, such as Arkansas, have experimented with them. “However, these policies were stopped by courts, pulled back by states — in some cases due to severe coverage losses that would have resulted — or curtailed by the Biden administration,” the group said.

Parrott tweeted, “And when Arkansas temporarily imposed a [work] requirement in Medicaid during the Trump Admin, large numbers of people lost health coverage & there was no increase in employment, research showed.”

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