WASHINGTON, June 8, 2016 - House Republican leaders are making it clear that they want to push ahead with reforms to food stamps and school meal programs in the next Congress. Speaker Paul Ryan was joined by House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway and other lawmakers on Tuesday in announcing a plan that they said would ensure that federal assistance programs do a better job of lifting people out of poverty.

Much of the 35-page plan is familiar, and it is more a set of principles than specific proposals. A brief reference to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly food stamps, emphasized the need for getting able-bodied recipients into jobs. “Part of our effort to reform the welfare system includes identifying policies that prevent or discourage working-age people from obtaining work or preparing for work,” the plan said. 

The plan also outlines changes to the national school meals programs that track legislation that a House committee approved last month. The bill would allow up to three states to run school nutrition programs on their own, an idea that Democrats strongly oppose.

At a news conference with Ryan, Conaway said it was vital to address the “deeper root causes” of poverty. “We can address hunger. We can address homelessness, but unless you fix those core issues within the people themselves, then it’s just a circle that they will be in, and it’s a downward spiral that most of them are in,” he said. 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who was in Petersburg, Virginia, Tuesday to promote USDA’s summer feeding program, singled out for criticism the GOP proposal to give federal nutrition funding to states so they could run meals programs themselves. Block-granting school meal funding “in many cases means limiting access,” Vilsack told reporters. 

The House Agriculture Committee’s ranking Democrat, Collin Peterson, warned that the Republican insistence on SNAP work requirements could make it impossible to pass another farm bill. “This proposal is strikingly similar to amendments that nearly derailed the 2014 farm bill,” Peterson said. “I believe that if the House chooses to go down this path we will never be able to pass another farm bill.”


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