Fresh off last week's debt ceiling bill and this week's extensive hearing on federal nutrition programs, discussion around the future of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is at the top of the agenda for many in farm policy. 

Debt ceiling negotiated by the Biden administration and House Republican leaders included changes to SNAP work requirements. After the deal, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said it took the issue off the table in farm bill talks.

However at a House Ag hearing Wednesday, SNAP work requirements were among the nutrition provisions discussed in a lengthy session.

Speaking on Agri-Pulse Newsmakers, Rep. Tracey Mann, R-Kan., said despite the debt deal adjustments, there are still SNAP changes to consider.

“We got to make sure that we are eliminating waste, fraud and abuse in the program,” said Mann.

Without providing specifics, Mann told Agri-Pulse that SNAP policies should ensure the program is temporary for participants.

“These programs are designed so that work-capable, able-bodied people return to the workforce,” Mann said. “Let's make sure the program reflects that moving forward.”

Ellen Vollinger, with the Food Research Action Center and Angela Rachidi with the American Enterprise Institute also appeared on Newsmakers to discuss SNAP reform.

Vollinger said the program is intended to ensure people have enough to eat when there aren’t significant work opportunities available.

“We are not going to be interested in conditioning peoples' food on whether or not they're documenting sufficient hours of work every month. We know that there are labor market issues in the country,” said Vollinger.

Rachidi, who was also a witness at Wednesday's hearing, noted that at present, states can waive SNAP work requirements when “jobs are scarce” — a term loosely defined in law. She said that provision was too “generous” to states and Congress should “set a floor on the unemployment rate" used to justify the waiver, "to ensure that states are implementing the work requirement as it was originally designed.”

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Vollinger and Rachidi both share a concern about Americans' access to nutritious food but differ on the proper approach to the issue.

Vollinger said when SNAP benefits were temporarily increased during The Great Recession, so did nutrition. She added that the average benefit is $6 a day for an individual and that “just doesn’t do it” where nutrition is concerned.

“When people have more money, they have a broader ability to make the choices that they want to make,” said Vollinger. “There are a lot of people in the country who would like to make the healthier choice.”

At Wednesday's hearing, lawmakers discussed ways to promote health through the SNAP program. Rachidi said she’s generally uncomfortable with the government “telling people what to do.” However, she said the country — and SNAP as a program — is facing a health crisis related to poor diet quality, and that the problem is so severe it warrants intervention.

“The goal of the program is to improve nutrition and it clearly is not improving nutrition. We have to take steps such as restricting what people can purchase in order to have the better outcomes of positive health,” said Rachidi.

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