Spotlight Exclusives

House Readies for Crucial SNAP Work Requirements Vote

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On Tuesday, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway said that he will begin polling members in preparation for a vote on the Farm Bill, which includes strengthened SNAP work requirements, as soon as next week.

“We’ll see,” said the Texas Republican when asked by Robert Doar, American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Morgridge Fellow in Poverty Studies, about the bill’s chances for passage. “We’ll whip it at some point this week and then we’ll be able to move forward.”

Conaway was the featured speaker at an AEI event focused on SNAP reforms contained in the $860 billion measure. The additional work requirements would require that adults between the ages of 18 and 59 work or enroll in a training program for at least 20 hours per week. People who are disabled, pregnant, or caring for a child under the age of six would be exempt.

Conaway said he had been frustrated by a lack of specifics from opponents of the new requirements. “I can’t get them to engage on what about the programs they don’t like specifically. . . What is it that they don’t like, other than they don’t like it because Conaway did it?”

Among the complaints from critics are that the reforms are being proposed before findings are in from 10 state pilot projects on SNAP work requirements, and that the bill does not provide states with enough resources for job-training programs for food stamp recipients.

House Democratic leaders have also argued that the proposal cannot get through the Senate, where 60 votes are needed for passage. Conaway said he believed polling that shows widespread public support for work requirements would ultimately move the Senate in his bill’s direction during conference negotiations. “I’m anxious to have that conversation with Senate colleagues, about why they’re against work,” he said.

Conaway insisted that the bill’s reforms would help reduce longtime reliance on government aid and help SNAP recipients move out of poverty. “The path to prosperity is paved with hard work and a good job, period,” he said.

A panel of center-right scholars followed Conaway’s remarks and generally applauded the bill, though they pressed for modifications in some areas.

Heritage Foundation Senior Research Fellow Robert Rector said the bill is too restrictive on who can be required to work, particularly through geographic labor restrictions. “This bill falls very, very short of the way it’s being presented,” he said.

AEI Research Fellow Angela Rachidi expressed disappointment that the bill takes no action to exclude unhealthy products, such as sugary beverages, from being purchased with SNAP benefits. A Bipartisan Policy Center task force report made such a recommendation earlier this year.

All of the panelists, as well as Doar, said they wished the bill did more to promote the institution of marriage as vital to economic stability and opportunity.

Doar emphasized, however, that the current bill is a major improvement on the status quo. “Making these changes in a program that has really been absent on work over the past 10 years is a big step forward.”

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