House Republicans pass a farm bill that guts food assistance for working families

Two million people would be in jeopardy of losing their benefits.

U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). CREDIT: Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty Images
U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). CREDIT: Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty Images

The House of Representatives narrowly passed the farm bill Thursday afternoon 213-211, with 20 Republicans joining all Democrats in voting no.

The House version of the farm bill dramatically cuts funding for food stamps, officially known as Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).

More than 1 million low-income households, totaling than 2 million people — particularly low-income working families — are in danger of losing their benefits altogether or have them reduced under the bill.

President Donald Trump tweeted after the vote that he was “so happy” to see work requirements included in the bill. Trump has stated previously he would veto any farm bill that neglected to impose tougher work requirements.

It is unlikely, however, that the work requirements from the House bill will be adopted by the Senate, where top Republicans on the agriculture committee have worked with Democrats to ensure the Senate farm bill avoids stricter work requirements and provisions to restrict eligibility.


The House bill includes new sweeping, aggressive work requirements, despite the fact that current SNAP law already has work requirements in place and the majority of families receiving benefits are employed. Data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation suggests 58 percent of working-age, non-disabled SNAP households are employed while receiving benefits; that figure rises to 62 percent for households with children.

The House GOP farm bill would require able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 59, without dependents, to work at least 20 hours a week. Those who aren’t working would be required to take a minimum of 20 hours a week of new job training classes, requirements that would increase to 25 hours in 2026.

Individuals who are unable to find full or part-time work would be subject to a “lockout” period that cuts off benefits for a full year. If they are unable to meet the required hours under the policy for a second time, they could face a lockout period of three full years.

The bill also curtails a provision called “broad-based categorical eligibility,” which allows states to enroll their residents in SNAP if they can prove they qualify for other income-based public assistance programs. It provides a safety net for families and individuals working low-wage jobs that put them right above the income cutoff for SNAP.

The program is extremely popular, with 42 states having adopted the policy.

Without it, many working families with an income close to SNAP’s cutoff of 130 percent of the federal poverty level (roughly $1,702 a month for a family of three), would lose access to their benefits. Families in this category are earning an income, yet still face significant costs like child care, transportation, or medical expenses, which make it difficult to afford food.

Eliminating categorical eligibility would also jeopardize free school lunch for low-income children. The traditional way for a child to receive free school lunch is through a paper application filled out by the child’s parent. In states that implemented categorical eligibility, however, a child whose family receives SNAP benefits is automatically enrolled by the district into the free school lunch program, ensuring that every child whose family is struggling to make ends meet is guaranteed one meal a day. Roughly 275,000 students would be in jeopardy of losing their free lunches if categorical eligibility was eliminated.