According to the left-wing Center on Budget & Policy Priorities [CBPP], up to 4 million of those who will lose eligibility are able-bodied adults without dependents [ABAWDs] between the ages of 18 and 50. This results because the House bill will require states to follow the 1996 welfare reform law’s restriction on eligibility for this group unless these beneficiaries obtain employment, participate in job training activities, or perform voluntary community service activities in exchange for their benefits. Even in communities with higher than average unemployment, there are opportunities for these individuals to remain in compliance by performing community service activities like clearing trash from roads and parks, helping staff soup kitchens and food pantries, or other voluntary activities in exchange for their taxpayer-provided benefits. The Congressional Budget Office does not share the CBPP’s view that this many able bodied adults will lose benefits – they project a maximum of 1.7 million ABAWDs losing benefits.
The CBPP also projects another 1.8 million beneficiaries may lose eligibility because their incomes and assets are higher than those allowed under current law provisions of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP]. Any public assistance program must have a cutoff point for eligibility. The House bill does not change the cutoff points in current law, but rather eliminates loopholes which have let people whose monetary resources are above these eligibility standards into the program regardless of the fact that their earnings or savings are higher than the legal limits.
Even if the CBPP’s highest projections for number of persons losing benefits are correct, the number of people on the food stamp rolls after enactment of the House bill would STILL be more than 1 million higher than in 2010. And that will be 5 years after what the Obama administration proclaimed as the end of the recession in 2009.
While the House Farm bill increases spending on crop insurance, it also cuts or eliminates other commodities programs so that total spending benefiting farmers is reduced by 8.9 percent over the next decade. By contrast, the House nutrition bill reduces nutrition program spending over the next decade by just 5.1 percent.
While well intentioned, many anti-hunger organizations equate spending levels on federal nutrition programs with solving hunger issues in America. However the large drop in child hunger that occurred between 1995 and 2003 coincided with a period of declining spending on the Food Stamp program, and was directly linked to increased work participation among low-income single mothers.
Economic growth and a thriving economy that creates jobs is the most effective weapon against hunger. This was proven in the initial six years after enactment of welfare reform in 1996. Between 1995 and 2003, strong work requirements combined with appropriate supports such as childcare assistance and the Earned Income Tax Credit helped reduce the number of children living in poverty by 2.9 million, with black child poverty falling to its lowest level ever. The incidence of childhood hunger was cut in half as estimated by the Department of Agriculture. Employment of single mothers who were high school dropouts increased by two-thirds. These gains were maintained despite the economic downturn after 9/11. While there will always be a need for the safety net and federal nutrition support programs, they will never achieve the type of broad-based positive outcomes that result from a strong economy and increased workforce participation.
Furthermore, the often cited USDA “food insecurity” survey has come under criticism in the past for not accurately measuring whether individuals in are in a situation where they are unable to access nutrition. The survey seeks to cast a very broad net as to what qualifies as food insecure, which the USDA says means that the household at least at some point in the past year “lacked access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.” The USDA actually defines food security this way (emphasis added): “Food insecurity is limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.” Finally, it is important to remember that individuals who meet the eligibility requirements will continue to receive SNAP benefits under these reforms.
Nothing in the House nutrition bill makes changes to the School Lunch Program. However, there is an interaction between the SNAP program and school lunch program eligibility – if a child is part of a household enrolled in the SNAP program, they become categorically eligible for free meals in the school lunch and breakfast programs.
Families which leave SNAP due to termination of categorical eligibility in SNAP will have to apply for the school lunch program to ensure that their children continue to receive free lunches. If their family incomes meet the requirements for free meals in the school lunch program, their children will continue to receive free meals. If their family income exceeds program eligibility levels for free meals, they may qualify for reduced price meals.
Nine federal agencies already operate 47 different federal job training programs. The seven largest federal job training programs already receive $18 billion in federal funding. So, there is more than enough federal funding already for job training programs which SNAP recipients can enroll in to fulfill the work requirements.
In addition, the bill re-directs a portion of the current law SNAP Employment and Training funding to enabling recipients to comply with the Southerland Amendment work requirement if states opt to apply it to their recipients with children.
Because food stamp benefits are 100% federal money, there is a value to providing states an incentive to incorporate the successful TANF work requirements into their food stamp programs. Under the Southerland Amendment, states opting in commit to engage all assigned adults in work activities. That means active case management where caseworkers help recipients find a work activity that will enable them to remain eligible. These activities will also help the recipients gain skills and work experience which will increase their employability. Recipients are only sanctioned for refusing to participate when directed to a work activity.
As beneficiaries participate in these activities, many will obtain paid employment or increase their work hours, leading to higher family incomes and less federal benefits from the SNAP program. States will be able to retain these savings and use them for any state purpose, such as employment training or education.
The experience of the TANF program has shown that states often find plowing funds back into their work engagement with clients produces beneficial results for both their public assistance participants and for the state. This necessarily creates a source of additional funding for compliance activities that opponents of the House bill claim the bill doesn’t provide.
The critics can’t have it both ways – they can’t complain that the House bill doesn’t provide additional resources for state activities to ensure compliance with the work requirements and then turn around and complain that the work requirement gives the states more money.