SNAP is always the most contentious part of the Farm Bill, which must be reauthorized by Congress every five years. About 80 percent of the bill’s total spending is wrapped up in the nutrition title, making it a ripe target for politicians looking to dramatically cut federal spending while scoring political points. This year is no different; the House’s version of the bill includes stricter eligibility and work requirements, while the Senate’s version opts not to impose any additional restrictions. In the House’s version—the stricter, more conservative version favored by President Donald Trump—GOP leadership wants to implement strict work requirements, as well as make some changes to eligibility. The House version would allow higher income limits for SNAP, but would simultaneously eliminate a rule that currently allows states to use somewhat looser asset-eligibility guidelines in place of SNAP’s own guidelines. The rule change alone would reduce the number of enrolled families by 10 percent.
A new simulation from Mathematica and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation finds that the House’s changes to countable assets and categorical eligibility would decrease the ranks of SNAP recipients by 2 million households. The analysis concludes that the number of households that would be newly eligible for SNAP with the House’s proposed income increases would be significantly offset by the millions of families who would suddenly lose eligibility. And these projected reductions don’t yet include the numbers of households that might soon be rejected if they don’t meet the accompanying work requirements in the House draft.
In a statement accompanying the simulation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation program officer Jasmine Hall Ratliff said that “the findings of this impact assessment demonstrate that those who rely on SNAP—two-thirds of whom are children, older adults, and people with disabilities—should have access to benefits without undue barriers to eligibility, enrollment, or utilization.” The report, however, finds that those would be precisely the groups affected by the House’s new policy. Thirty-four percent of the households that will lose eligibility include elderly beneficiaries, while just under a quarter include children, and 11 percent include a person living with a disability. Just more than half the families that would suddenly find themselves without food-stamp benefits live in poverty.
“Almost all benefits for households that qualify for [the categorical-eligibility option] go to working families, and restricting this state option would make it harder for families to put food on the table and get back on their feet,” said Brynne Keith-Jennings, a senior research analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
In the lead-up to the first day of negotiations on the bill, Representative Mike Conaway, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said in the face of Senate pressure that he would be willing to make “significant compromises” on SNAP requirements, though several committee Republicans, including Pennsylvania’s Glenn Thompson, indicated that they would continue to push the House bill’s strict eligibility restrictions. Senate leaders have said a bill with stricter eligibility requirements won’t pass their chamber.