U.S. Senate Democrats ask for more specifics on SNAP changes resulting from debt deal
A sign noting the acceptance of electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, cards that are used by states to issue benefits is displayed at a convenience store on Dec. 4, 2019 in Richmond, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Democratic U.S. senators want more details about who will be affected by new work requirements for government food assistance that were a Republican demand under a deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.
Led by Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, the lawmakers sent a letter on Monday to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack requesting four specific pieces of information:
- The net change in enrollment for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps, after the U.S. Department of Agriculture implements the changes.
- Whether and when USDA will release state-level assessments of the changes.
- The breakdown of net changes to national SNAP enrollment figures by certain demographic categories.
- The USDA’s plan to communicate the eligibility changes to affected populations.
“We remain concerned about the changes to eligibility and increases to work requirements overall. By their own admission, the individuals who proposed these new work requirements and changes to eligibility did so as an exercise to reduce both the overall cost of SNAP and the number of individuals enrolled,” the members wrote.
“We are pleased at reports suggesting that this attempt to push more Americans into poverty failed, but as it stands, there are still information gaps on how the eligibility changes will impact food security for Americans by age, race, ethnicity, or gender,” they continued.
The letter is signed by Fetterman, chair of the Subcommittee on Food and Nutrition, Specialty Crops, Organics and Research of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
All Democratic members of the subcommittee joined the letter. They include Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Raphael Warnock of Georgia.
The lawmakers requested that Vilsack respond by July 10.
The USDA did not respond to a request for comment.
Changes in work requirements
The Fiscal Responsibility Act — the deal to raise the country’s borrowing limit, or debt ceiling — expands work requirements for adults without dependents age 18 to 55, raising the previous cutoff age of 49.
The additional requirements for this population include mandates to work for pay, attend a training program or volunteer 80 hours a month — though some states can waive these requirements depending on unemployment figures and other factors.
The changes will sunset in 2030.
The deal brokered by the White House and GOP House leadership included concessions from both sides.
Biden, who for months called changes in SNAP work requirements a nonstarter, agreed to the expansion but with exemptions for SNAP recipients in that category who are veterans, homeless or are under 24 and aging out of the foster care system. Some exemptions had already applied to this special population of adults — for example, for those who are physically or mentally unable to work.
GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his negotiators originally proposed a version with none of the additional exceptions.
The left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated that the original plan would have put food assistance in jeopardy for roughly 1 million adults without dependents.
The GOP had also wanted to expand work requirements for recipients of Medicaid, the government-sponsored health care program for low-income individuals and other special populations.
The welfare changes all together would have cut $100 billion and $120 billion in government spending over the next 10 years, according to respective analyses from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and Moody’s Analytics.
In the deal that finally made it into law, the SNAP adjustments and changes to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program will cost the government $2.1 billion over the next decade, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget’s analysis of the Congressional Budget Office score of the law.
The administration, as of late May when the deal was agreed upon, did not have an estimate of how many people would be affected by the expanded work requirements.
Shalanda Young, director of the U.S. Office Management and Budget and a negotiator for the deal, said on May 31 that the number of adults ages 49 to 55 who will be subject to the new rules may break even with the number who will now be exempt because of veteran status, homelessness or foster care considerations.
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