House Republicans who have been struggling unsuccessfully for years to tighten work rules for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program scored a win in the debt limit negotiations that would expand the requirements to people up to age 54, but President Joe Biden also won key new exemptions for veterans and people who are homeless. 

Adults 24 and younger who are moving out of the foster care system will also be exempt from the requirements for the first time. 

The landmark agreement, the legislative text of which was released Sunday evening, could effectively remove SNAP work requirements as a significant issue in the upcoming farm bill debate, according to a congressional source familiar with the provisions and the debate over the issue.

“If I were a Democrat, are you going to relitigate this and lose opportunities for other priorities in the farm bill? Similarly with Republicans, I just think this has to be the end of the work (requirement) discussion for now,” the source said. 

Biden told reporters Sunday it was a "ridiculous assertion" that the deal could lead to people going hungry.

In return for allowing the new exemptions for veterans and homeless people of all ages, Republicans also won some provisions that would restrict the number of broader exemptions that many states can provide to the work requirements. 

States would be allowed to continue waiving the requirement entirely with USDA’s approval, but the department would be forced to start publicizing the data used to justify the waiver request. 

Under existing rules, able-bodied adults without dependents between 18 and 49 can only get SNAP benefits for three months during a three-year period unless they are working — or in an approved training program — for at least 80 hours per month. Under the agreement, the maximum age will be immediately raised to 50; the limit would increase to 53 in fiscal 2024 and to 54 in fiscal 2025. The increase will sunset in 2030.

In 2018, the GOP-controlled House approved an early version of the 2018 farm bill that would have raised the age limit to 59 and also applied the work requirement to adults with school-age children, but the provisions were dropped in the final version of the legislation. 

The Trump administration later tried to make it harder for states to get waivers from the work requirements, but the regulations were blocked by a judge and ultimately withdrawn by the incoming Biden administration.

Seventeen states currently have statewide waivers and nine more have waivers for certain areas. 

States with no waivers or only partial waivers also can provide exemptions for people who have mental issues or other concerns that don’t qualify for automatic exemptions. Under the Biden-McCarthy agreement, the percentage of able-bodied adults that states can exempt under that authority would drop from 12% to 8%, and states would no longer be able to accumulate unused exemptions from one year to the next. 

The congressional source said the states that tend to use those exemptions include Colorado, New Hampshire, Oregon,South Dakota and Washington.

USDA would be required to start publicizing waiver requests as well as the data the state uses to justify the waiver. 

The compromise bill, called the Fiscal Responsibility Act, also would impose caps on non-defense spending for the next two years and suspends the debt limit until 2025. 

The House is expected to vote on the legislation Wednesday.

Despite the GOP compromises in the final SNAP provisions, some anti-hunger advocates said Biden still went too far. 

“While the debt ceiling agreement announced last night is a significant improvement over the radical House bill, it is not the deal the country deserves,” Sharon Parrott, president of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, said in a statement.

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“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,” she added.

But White House adviser Gene Sperling called the new exemptions for veterans, the homeless and young adults leaving the foster system a “very positive reform.” 

House and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, a member of the House Agriculture Committee during the debate on the 2018 farm bill, said in a tweet that the exemptions would “provide meaningful & much-needed support for Americans who are homeless & housing insecure.”

A McCarthy ally, Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., also defended the provisions. “These requirements are not mean,” Johnson told CNN’s State of the Union. “They're not onerous. It's 20 hours a week work training, education, or volunteering at a local food bank for people who are able-bodied, not pregnant, don't have kids at home, live in an area where there are jobs.”

Johnson, a member of the House Ag Committee, introduced a bill earlier this year that would have removed existing SNAP work requirement exemptions for some 1.5 million people. A provision similar to what eventually passed the House in April as part of House Republicans' Limit, Save, Grow Act was later included in a bill to fund USDA, FDA and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for fiscal 2024. But the full House Appropriations Committee last week postponed consideration of that measure amid the debt ceiling talks.

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