- Economic Justice
House Farm Bill Could Push Millions of People Off SNAP, Exacerbating Hunger in the U.S.
On April 12, Representative Conaway, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, released his farm bill. The Farm Bill reauthorizes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formally known as food stamps). SNAP helps more than 40 million Americans put food on the table, yet Chairman Conaway’s bill includes changes to SNAP that could potentially force millions of struggling Americans off the program.
Many of these changes are described as work requirements, aimed at forcing more people into the workforce. Work is important. There’s enormous dignity in work, and a good job is the best path out of poverty.
But SNAP is not a jobs program. It is an anti-hunger program, and it is extremely effective at reducing hunger and food insecurity in the U.S. Taking away food from people will not help them get a job.
There are a number of federal education and workforce development programs, but Congress has repeatedly cut their funding over the years. If Congress is serious about getting more people into the workforce, raising wages, and creating jobs, then it should look to invest in those programs and improve those policies. A couple examples of things Congress can do include increasing access to higher education, instituting more predictable hours for employees, creating subsidized employment programs in distressed communities, offering affordable childcare, and expanding the EITC for adults without children.
Many of the people targeted by Chairman Conaway’s farm bill are not choosing to be out of work. Most are between jobs and using SNAP for a relatively short period of time. They don’t necessarily need to be in a training program. They need to be finding their next employer, and just need a little support until that next job comes through.
Other people are out of work for longer periods of time because they have serious barriers to employment. Maybe they have a mental health issue, substance use disorder, or disability that doesn’t qualify them for an exemption but prevents them from maintaining stable employment. Or maybe they have a criminal record. Maybe they have a child or elderly parent to care for. Or perhaps they live in an area that doesn’t have many jobs or access to transportation to get where a job may be. These barriers require significant attention and investment. SNAP already has a small Employment and Training program, but it is completely insufficient to deal with such serious barriers to employment. A slot in a simple training program is unlikely to actually lead to a stable job for many of these individuals, especially when other necessary services are not included.
Even with the additional $1 billion per year Chairman Conaway puts into the SNAP Employment and Training program, those dollars are wholly inadequate to deal with the onslaught of people now subject to the new work requirements. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates 6 to 8 million people could be subject to these new work requirements. Think about all the red tape and paperwork! Every month, all these individuals would have to prove that they are working or participating in a qualified work program for at least 20 hours a week. The state would be required to provide a training spot for every unemployed individual who wants one, an estimated 3 million people. But that turns out to be a measly $28 per person per month. What sort of meaningful job training can any state provide for $28 per person per month?
Moreover, the last farm bill in 2014 included $200 million for 10 demonstration projects in a variety of states to find out what is truly effective at moving more people into jobs and raising their wages. Shouldn’t we wait for the results of those projects before enacting these new policy restrictions? Pardon the expression, but this bill is shooting in the dark.
Using SNAP (an anti-hunger program) to address unrelated issues (jobs, employment, and wages) doesn’t make sense. Doing so without any data or evidence about what works and doesn’t work is even worse. And it’s not smart policy.
The House Agriculture Committee is scheduled to mark up this farm bill on April 18, and then the bill moves to a vote before the full House of Representatives. We need to create some noise and outrage around this bill!