The Congressional Budget Office estimated that these restrictions, and others in the House bill, would cut nearly $17 billion from the program’s spending by 2028 by ending or reducing benefits for nearly 2 million people, including an estimated 740,000 adults living in households with children. These cuts could, potentially, placate conservative voters who have long, and erroneously, viewed recipients of safety-net programs as unemployed people living on the government’s dime. In reality, 85 percent of food-insecure households with children are headed by working parents. And the maximum per-meal value of food stamps is a paltry $1.86—which isn’t enough to cover the cost of an entire meal almost anywhere in the country.
President Donald Trump has been supportive of the House’s work-requirements provision for months, tweeting as early as May that “work requirements” were part of a “strong Farm Bill.” Earlier this month, he doubled down, tweeting, “When the House and Senate meet on the very important Farm Bill—we love our farmers—hopefully they will be able to leave the WORK REQUIREMENTS FOR FOOD STAMPS PROVISION that the House approved.” In the same tweet, he seemed to indicate that the Senate should consider getting rid of the legislative filibuster, which would allow them to pass the farm bill with only Republican votes instead of the 60 votes it currently requires.
But Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the vice chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told me that the farm bill won’t pass the Senate with increased work requirements for the food-stamp program. In the past few months, Senator Pat Roberts, the committee’s chair, and the ranking member Senator Debbie Stabenow have said the same thing. And a 68–30 Senate vote to table a work-requirements amendment back in June suggests they’re right. The question is now whether House Republicans are willing to hold up agreement on a joint bill over a work-requirements provision that took two tries to get through their chamber in the first place.
“If the bill comes out of conference and it is just as excessive in its spending on farm subsidies, and does nothing to address this issue of helping people get into employment in SNAP, I think it does run the risk of having a rebellion in the House where the House just says, ‘Well, we’re not passing that,’” said Robert Doar, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who administered New York’s SNAP program while commissioner of the state’s Human Resources Administration.
“It is very, very ambitious, given how far apart the House and Senate bill are right now, to think that we’re going to have a deal reached by September 30,” said Juli Obudzinski, the deputy policy director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. It’s not just SNAP—the two bills differ on policy issues from farm-subsidy eligibility to funding for conservation programs that are popular with farmers.