As lawmakers continue early work on shaping the 2023 farm bill, one of the bill’s biggest programs continues to create a divide.
Nutrition programs account for about 80 percent of the farm bill, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest food assistance program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and in both the Senate and the House have expressed views about work requirements written into the SNAP program. Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Michigan, is the Chairperson of the Senate Agriculture Committee. She is adamant that the work requirements for the nutrition program SNAP are enough.
“There’s been a misplaced debate, not understanding that there are work requirements for SNAP. There are work requirements for SNAP,” she said. “If you are able-bodied, able to work unless you are disabled, a senior, a family with small children under age six, you’re probably working right now part time. The requirement is 30 hours per week.”
However, that law was suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic and the suspension continues until July. As of July 1, 2023, the work requirements will again be in effect. Republican congressional representative Austin Scott of Georgia, Vice-Chair of the House Agriculture Committee, said those requirements are often skirted.
“There are abuses of that system. It depends on the state that you’re in,” he said. He said he’s willing to discuss the work requirements with Stabenow if she’s willing to discuss ending categorical eligibility. “I know people who make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and receive SNAP benefits because they have a child in a Title I school. Categorical eligibility says that if you’re eligible for one benefit, then you automatically qualify for other benefits.”
While again asserting that there are work requirements for SNAP, Stabenow pointed out some changes made in the 2018 farm bill.
“In the last bill, we did strengthen some efforts around employment and training,” she said, “which I think is something that would be good for us to do (in the 2023 farm bill).”
Meanwhile, Scott remains in his position that the work requirements be made more secure.
“We’ve got plenty of money in this country to take care of people who can’t work,” he said. “No country has enough money to take care of people who won’t work.”
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