GOP farm bill will be a nightmare for state SNAP programs

New analysis shows the bill would further burden low-income families.

The new GOP farm bill would strike a major blow to state SNAP programs and complicate things for low-income families. (CREDIT: Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
The new GOP farm bill would strike a major blow to state SNAP programs and complicate things for low-income families. (CREDIT: Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The House Agriculture Committee farm bill currently snaking its way through the House of Representatives will likely be huge migraine for states, according new analysis from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

According to the CBPP analysis, under the current farm bill, states would have to jump through hoops in order to provide their most vulnerable residents with the means to feed themselves, no doubt impacting low-income families and individuals and making their lives harder than they are already.

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The primarily GOP-backed farm bill also unravels nearly two-decades-worth of progress toward streamlining and simplifying SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. States would be required to collect monthly information from 7 million SNAP recipients, detailing how many hours they worked at a job or work program. Currently, most states collect data on a participants’ income only every six months or when a major change occurs that could affect the household’s eligibility, but don’t track small changes in work hours or earnings.

Reporting hours and earnings on a monthly basis could dramatically impact SNAP participants who work low-wage service industry jobs, where workers aren’t entirely in control of their hours. The House farm bill imposes harsh penalties on participants who fail to meet the number of hours required, meaning an individual could be lose SNAP benefits for 12 months if they failed to meet the 20 hour requirement. After a second month of non-compliance, a SNAP participant could lose their access to SNAP for three years.

Struggling families and individuals will also have to provide more documentation than previously required to prove they are eligible for SNAP. The bill eliminates an option utilized by states that previously reduced the amount of paperwork and streamlined the application process, making it easier to help those in need.

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In order to keep track of all these minor details, states will need to dramatically expand their staff to process the information, respond to participant questions, and make decisions about exemptions and sanctions. And that doesn’t come cheap.

Adding to the cost is a mandate that would require states to create new work programs on a vast scale.

Currently, SNAP’s employment and training (E&T) program serves about 700,000 individuals. The House version of the farm bill would require states to offer a slot in a work program to every SNAP participant subject to the work requirement and not working 20 hours or more a week. Conservative estimates suggest this would amount to approximately 3 million slots nationally in a typical month of 2021, the first year the rule would go into effect. This would be an increase of more than ten-fold in the number of work and training slots, making it difficult for states to piece together useful work opportunities. It would also likely force states to waste money on ineffective programs that don’t target the correct individuals.

“Because the bill requires states to provide a sufficient number of 20-hour-a-week work programs for every individual subject to the requirement who is not working, states would likely need to create low-cost placements rather than the targeted, skills-based, more intensive training that states are increasingly turning to,” the CBPP report states.

States would also lose the flexibility to tailor these programs to their own needs under the bill by narrowing down the types of E&T services that states can offer SNAP recipients. Two of the most common E&T services, job search and workfare, would either be highly regulated or abolished outright. States that utilize these programs would be left to develop different programs.

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In recent years, 70 percent of working families eligible for SNAP have participated in work support programs, in contrast to just 43 percent in 2002, signaling that the current system is effective in promoting work. Creating more paperwork and bureaucratic red tape for struggling households could reverse that trend and make SNAP less effective.