Late last week, the House of Representatives passed a version of the 2018 Farm Bill that would cut over $20 billion of funding from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), in addition to imposing strict new work requirements on many of its beneficiaries. The bill would also severely restrict the ability of any individual state to change or relax many of these requirements when appropriate to address the specific needs of its residents.
This misguided approach will have devastating consequences for our society’s most vulnerable, causing up to 2 million people, many of them children, to lose access to a quality diet. The current news cycle has been dominated by images of the administration’s attitude towards those seeking asylum in the United States, justified in part by the claim that we need to take care of “America first.” While we reject this as a false choice, that the claim is made while we continue to condemn so many of our own citizens to poverty and hunger should give us all pause. The Financial Clinic strongly condemns the passage of this bill, and call on all in Congress to follow the example set by the Senate Agriculture Committee and take a bipartisan approach that protects the critical support that SNAP offers.
Every day, the Clinic and our partners work with low- and moderate-income people across 41 states that are struggling to make ends meet and provide for themselves and their families. Many of our customers – both with dependents and without – face compounding economic hardship including housing insecurity and income volatility, and rely on SNAP as the first line of defense against food insecurity and hunger.
Contrary to the assumptions motivating the House bill, most SNAP recipients who can work, do work. In fact, SNAP is a vital work support, boosting wages for people working in low paying jobs with unpredictable schedules, helping them afford a basic diet. Many of these SNAP recipients are already subject to a strict regime of work requirements and sanctions and a number of social service organizations support further relaxing these counterproductive requirements rather than expanding them. The sanctions framework offered by the House Farm Bill is extreme and will have a real and measurable negative impact on working families’ financial security and wellbeing.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that the House bill also creates a significant, unfunded administrative burden for state governments by increasing individual reporting requirements and eliminating state discretion for tailoring the rules. This kind of expansion of state bureaucracy not only wastes taxpayer money but increases the risk that eligible individuals, many of them employed, will be removed from programs as a result of administrative errors, depriving them of the assistance to which they’re entitled and unnecessarily putting their access to food in jeopardy.
While the House bill includes an increase in funding for state workforce development programs, the majority of experts agree these funds remain woefully inadequate and could amount to as low as $30 per individual, per month. The best research suggests that investment on the order of more than $800 a month per individual is likely required to provide the kind of meaningful support that is most effective in helping someone find a good job at a livable wage.
Lastly, the Clinic urges our representatives to consider the human cost of these legislative changes. The average household benefit through SNAP amounts to just $1.40 per person per meal, and with just this small amount the program has lifted millions of people out of poverty and kept millions of children from going hungry. Removing this support for vulnerable working people sends the message that we do not believe the barriers they face are real, that their efforts are insufficient, and that their needs are not our concern. But we know that the problem is not that too many people are receiving SNAP benefits, or that they do not work hard enough to attain security without them. We know that the problem is too many hard working people cannot earn a living wage to support themselves and their families. Systemic poverty is the problem, and removing critical support like nutrition assistance will only make this challenge worse.
The House Farm Bill will now need to be reconciled with the bill passed last week by the Senate Agriculture Committee before it becomes law. We encourage everyone to call their Senators and urge them to support this bipartisan compromise that protects SNAP benefits for millions of working families. You can find out who your Senator is and their contact information by visiting callyourrep.co and entering your home address. Or you can call 1-888-398-8702.