House Republicans have spent the years since the Great Recession clamoring for “reform” of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, cutting funding from the program in budget after budget. But now that a top House Republican has drafted a deal that would make the program’s basic requirements even more stringent than Texas — a state with notoriously strict eligibility standards — conservative Republicans are balking at the deal in favor of a requirement even they admit is “out of date.”
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK), in an effort to push food stamp reform that would have a fighting chance in the Senate, made sizable changes to SNAP in the House version of the farm bill. Lucas’ draft reins in state eligibility requirements by ending what is known as “categorical eligibility” for all non-cash-assistance food programs. The Lucas version of the bill would save billions but kick nearly two million people out of the program, following the footsteps of Republican efforts over the last two years. But that isn’t enough for his fellow Republicans, who want to make deeper, “symbolic” cuts that have no chance of passing the Senate, Politico reports:
Yet for all this, according to persons familiar with the negotiations, Lucas ran into a buzz saw at recent member meetings with committee Republicans. His compromise was rejected in favor of the symbolism of ending categorical eligibility outright — without risking any adjustments.
The upshot is that the committee’s draft bill will go back to the prior House position of ending cat-el in all cases but cash assistance. This will save $11.5 billion but could drive at least 1.8 million people off the rolls and has twice been rejected by the Senate. [...]
The biggest impact of ending categorical eligibility is the reinstatement of the $2,000 asset test requiring families to spend down their savings before qualifying for help.
As Politico notes, however, even Republicans admit that returning to the $2,000 asset test is “out of date” and makes no sense:
Privately, House Republican aides admit the $2,000 cap is out of date — worth less than half of the $4,193 it would be if fully adjusted for inflation. And if the family car is valued at more than $4,650, that excess is also counted against the $2,000.
Even Lucas’ reform is a solution in search of a problem. The varying state eligibility requirements aren’t responsible for the rapid growth of SNAP over the last four years; rather, the growth came from the Great Recession and President Obama’s decision to expand the program as part of his economic stimulus package. SNAP is now shrinking and is on pace to return to its normal level in the next decade.
Still, in pushing a “compromise” that would have booted 1.8 million off of food stamps, Lucas gave the GOP the chance to do something it has been trying to do since it took control of the House. Conservatives balked, though, because the deal apparently doesn’t take away vital food assistance from enough struggling families.