The five-year fight: Protecting SNAP in the Farm Bill

Added April 6th, 2018 by Peter Ruark | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) plays a critical role in addressing hunger and food insecurity in Michigan and is the first line of defense against hunger for the majority of Michigan households with low incomes. When Michigan led the country in unemployment for four years during the 2000s, SNAP enabled jobless workers who had not earned enough to qualify for Unemployment Insurance to put food on their families’ tables.

bridge cardSNAP is reauthorized by Congress every five years as part of the overall reauthorization of the federal Farm Bill. Reauthorization provides an opportunity for members of Congress to make helpful—and unfortunately also harmful—changes to the food assistance program. This year, the threats are stronger than the potential positive changes.

One population particularly under fire are able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs), who are required to work at least 20 hours per week in order to receive SNAP. If they fall short of this threshold for more than three months in a three-year rolling period, they lose their food assistance. From 2002 through 2016, Michigan received a statewide waiver from this work requirement due to the high level of unemployment the state experienced during many of those years. There has been talk from U.S. House members as well as the Trump administration of taking away states’ ability to receive waivers from the work requirements during times of high unemployment.

While a Farm Bill has not yet been introduced in the U.S. House, the chair of the House Agriculture Committee has also signaled an interest in cutting overall funding, making work requirements more stringent for ABAWDs and perhaps other recipients, and requiring states to undertake comprehensive work programs that would in many cases duplicate or pull funding from existing programs that work. While the Michigan League for Public Policy believes work is the best way for able-bodied individuals and households to achieve economic security, we are concerned that such changes will reduce SNAP’s ability to assist recipients’ success in the workforce. The “stick” approach apparently favored by many in the U.S. House and the administration assumes that SNAP recipients do not want to work, when in fact most are working.

The League has recently sent all members of Michigan’s congressional delegation a letter outlining our concerns with some of the proposals and asking members to protect SNAP in the following ways:

  • Oppose More Stringent Work Requirements
  • Oppose Eliminating a State’s Ability to Waive Work Requirements During Times of High Unemployment
  • Maintain State Flexibility for Devising Work and Training Programs Under SNAP
  • Protect SNAP from Deep Funding Cuts
  • Protect the Double Up Food Bucks Program
  • Reject Any Attempt to Eliminate Categorical Eligibility

This is a heads-up on what MIGHT be in the 2018 Farm Bill, which could be introduced as soon as April 9. After it is introduced, the League will keep you informed on what is in it and how you can communicate with Michigan’s congressional delegation that you want them to build on SNAP’s strengths rather than making it less accessible to those who need it.

— Peter Ruark

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