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The House Passed the Farm Bill. That Spells Bad News for Food Stamp Recipients.

The changes are intended to encourage more SNAP recipients to enter the work force—but research shows that's not a problem in the first place.
Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan delivers remarks during his weekly press conference on June 21st, 2018, in Washington, D.C.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan delivers remarks during his weekly press conference on June 21st, 2018, in Washington, D.C.

The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a farm bill that would create stricter work requirements for those who receive food stamps, the Associated Press reports.

If the farm bill becomes law, it will require able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 59 to work 20 hours each week (or complete 20 hours of job training) in order to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) said these changes would "close the skills gap, better equip our workforce, and encourage people to move from welfare to work, so more Americans have the opportunity to tap into the economic prosperity we're seeing right now," according to the AP.

But as Pacific Standard wrote in March, a report published by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that imposing these new work requirements would be going after an issue that barely exists.

Current rules already contain work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents who receive SNAP benefits for three months or longer, but states and counties can waive those requirements when unemployment is high. The farm bill changes seek to go after such waivers.

But targeting those able-bodied adults actually means going after a fairly small group: They represent only 13 percent of all SNAP recipients.


As Pacific Standard reported: "[W]hile 52 percent of healthy adult SNAP recipients worked in a typical month, a much higher percentage (74 percent) were either currently working, had worked in the year before, or would work in the year after. In other words, employment is often highly unstable for many SNAP recipients."

The CBPP report concludes that SNAP is, overall, functioning as it should. As researcher Brynne Keith-Jennings told Pacific Standard in an email, the report's key takeaway is that SNAP participants are already working when they can—but usually "in the low-wage labor market, where jobs are often unstable because of shifting schedules and lack key benefits like paid sick leave."

No Democrat supported the farm bill, which just barely passed with a vote of 213 to 211. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) called the bill "cruel and destructive."

The bill appears headed for trouble in the Senate, which, the AP reports, plans to steer away from food stamp program changes and focus on small adjustments to agriculture programs.