WASHINGTON, July 15, 2015 - After starting in February, the House Agriculture Committee continues its series of oversight hearings on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program with a session today focused on “evidence-based solutions.” Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, says he’s reviewing the program to gather ideas for possible reforms. But don’t look for proposals from the committee until it gets ready to write the next farm bill.
“I don’t feel any time pressure,” Conaway said in an interview. He said he’s looking forward to seeing results from the 10 SNAP pilot projects that are testing varying approaches for moving beneficiaries into employment and better-paying jobs. Last year, USDA doled out almost $75 billion in program benefits.
In addition to funding the three-year projects, the 2014 farm bill also required studies of their results and interim yearly reports. USDA awarded the projects earlier this year so they will be wrapping up in time for Congress to write the next farm bill. The 2014 farm bill expires in 2018.
“It’s just good business. If you’re going to pay for a study, you ought to wait until the study is done before you make your mind up,” Conaway said. “If we proposed something now, the folks who oppose any kind of change would be able to use that, rightfully so, to jam us on it. I don’t want to give anybody that kind of ammunition.”
The full results of the pilot projects actually won’t be known until well after 2018. According to the Food and Nutrition Service, there will be six annual reports sent to Congress between late this year and 2020. An interim report is due in the spring of 2019, with a final report due in 2021. The interim and final reports will contain separate volumes for each of the 10 projects.
The committee’s ranking Democrat, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, says there are easy ways to cut the cost of SNAP that Conaway isn’t pursuing, including eliminating or restricting the use of what’s called “categorical eligibility,” which makes low-income people automatically eligible for SNAP if they are getting some other form of welfare assistance. Categorical eligibility was preserved in the farm bill at the insistence of Senate Democrats.
Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a research and advocacy group that has criticized GOP attempts to cut SNAP, praised the approach that the six hearings so far have taken. At the latest meeting in June, the committee heard from case workers who work with SNAP beneficiaries. The hearings “are covering a lot of ground on the basic background and impact of the program,” Dean said.
(Updated 1:30 p.m.)
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