An earlier version of this story and headline incorrectly reported that House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway had proposed an amendment to the farm bill that would place time limits on how long a food-stamp recipient could stay in training programs. While the story accurately quotes Conaway as saying that he was working on devising those limits, he has proposed no such amendment. A corrected version of the story is below.
In a nod to conservatives who want stricter proposed work requirements for the food stamp program, the House Agriculture Committee chairman said Wednesday that he’s working to put time limits on how long food stamp recipients can participate in job training activities required for the assistance.
Conaway said he would like to close a potential loophole in the House farm bill that could allow participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, to “hop between training assignments,” rather than pursue employment, said Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas.
House Republicans aim for a vote on the farm bill by the end of the week.
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“Ultimately, you need to go to work,” said Conaway, who sponsored the legislation. “Right now, we don’t have a trigger there and we’re trying to figure out a way to say, 'all right, you get a certain amount of (time) to get job training. And then you’ve got to go to work.'.”
The Congressional Budget Office estimates the farm bill would cut more than $20 billion in SNAP benefits over 10 years. That includes $9.2 billion in reduced spending due to the work requirement. Last year, SNAP benefits topped $63.7 billion.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank, estimates that a total of 1 million SNAP households with 2 million people could lose their benefits because of the work requirement.
The SNAP program currently requires healthy adults without dependents between 18 and 49 years old to either work 20 hours per week or participate in 20 hours a week of education and training in order to receive benefits.
The House bill would expand those requirements to able-bodied SNAP participants up to age 59. Those who don’t comply would lose benefits for one year after the first violation and for three years after future violations.
To regain program eligibility under the bill, recipients must either meet the work requirement for a full month or receive an exemption or waiver from the work requirement.
But the legislation currently doesn’t put a limit on how long a person could remain in training activity and still continue to receive assistance.
“On balance, we’ve got the right policy in place," Conaway said.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said the farm bill’s SNAP work requirement is “not a huge issue for most of the caucus," which is focusing most of its energy on immigration.
“The work requirements in the bill we feel are good,” Meadows said. “There is some concern that it creates some federal program under USDA for jobs that has not been very effective in the past. Having that money going towards job training and vocational training and the like is critically important but is USDA the best place for those funds? I think most of our members would think not.”
A new analysis released Wednesday by the Urban Institute, a left-leaning think tank, said if the work requirements were imposed this year, about 20 percent — or nearly 8 million — would be subject to the work requirement.
And 5.2 million would violate the requirement based on their current work schedules.
Not all the non-compliant participants would be sanctioned off the program, however, because some could be exempted from the work requirement while others may live in a high unemployment area where the work requirements are waived.
A 2017 study by Mathematica Policy Research found 62 percent of SNAP participants in training activity receive job search services, while 33 percent undergo skills assessment.
The Urban Institute analysis said the Mathematica findings bode ill for the job prospects of SNAP training participants.
“The closest job-related activity used by SNAP Employment and Training participants was workfare or community service (19 percent), which in most cases is unlikely to lead to permanent employment or significant skill development,” said the Urban Institute analysis. “As a result, state SNAP Employment and Training programs have relatively little experience offering specific job training and skill development on a large scale.”