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Trump is expected to veto farm bill unless it imposes tough work requirements

Forty-three million Americans depend on SNAP for food assistance. Now, the president wants to make things more difficult for them.

Trump reportedly won't sign the House farm bill unless it includes work requirements for poor people using the SNAP program. Those work requirements have mostly been proven ineffective. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Trump reportedly won't sign the House farm bill unless it includes work requirements for poor people using the SNAP program. Those work requirements have mostly been proven ineffective. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump is expected to tell lawmakers Wednesday that he intends to veto the farm bill unless it includes tighter work requirements for individuals receiving food stamps, two people familiar with the deliberations told the Wall Street Journal.

Work requirements for food stamps, known officially as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), are the most controversial portion of the farm bill, which provides funding for SNAP and must be re-authorized by the fall.

President Trump has embraced the arguments of his party, saying on the campaign trail, “The person who is not working at all and has no intention of working at all is making more money and doing better than the person that’s working his and her ass off.”

Last October, Trump also claimed that “people are taking advantage of the system and other people aren’t receiving what they need to live.”

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While it’s not yet known what kind of work requirements Trump will seek to impose, the ones suggested by the House are already exhaustive.

A draft of the House bill was crafted earlier in April behind closed doors and without buy-in from the House Agriculture Committee’s Democrats, a departure from the farm bill’s bipartisan history. As a result, Republicans were able to set in motion legislation that would reaffirm one of the GOP and House Speaker Paul Ryan’s longest held beliefs: that families and individuals who utilize SNAP and other government assistant programs are supposedly lazy and unemployed.

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 work or part-time work would not only face the time limit of three months in three years, but would also be subject to a “lockout” period that cuts off benefits for a full year. If they are unable to meet the requirements under the policy for a second time, they could face a lockout period of three full years.

The House farm bill also applies time limits to adults without disabilities who are caring for children older than 6. Many adults caring for children that age already have a difficult time finding steady work while still providing their children with quality care, subjecting their children to greater risk of hunger.

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The current SNAP program already has time-limits on able-bodied working age adults without dependents ages 18 to 49, although governors in states with high unemployment can waive those work requirements under current the current SNAP program. These SNAP recipients are only eligible to receive benefits for three months out of every three years, unless they are consistently employed or in training for at least 20 hours per week. Additionally, a majority of individuals benefiting from SNAP live in a household where at least one adult is working full-time, but their low wages aren’t enough to survive on. Others turn to SNAP in transitional phases of their life, after losing a job or if an employer isn’t giving them the hours they need.

The House Farm Bill would also severely curtail a feature of SNAP called “categorical eligibility,” something specifically designed to encourage work. Categorical eligibility allows states to provide nutritional assistance to working families that receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), who are struggling to afford their groceries. The program is particularly popular with low-income working families with an income close to SNAP’s cutoff of 130 percent of the federal poverty level, which amounts to roughly $1,702 a month for a family of three. These families are earning an income, yet still face significant costs like child care, transportation, or medical expenses, which make it difficult to afford food. At least 40 states currently use categorical eligibility.

When categorical elibility was last threatened by Republicans, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that SNAP benefits for 2 million Americans would be terminated and 280,000 schoolchildren would lose access to the free school meals funded through categorical eligibility in certain districts.

As the discussion around work requirements continues to steal the spotlight, following Trump’s April 10 executive order directing federal agencies to impose tougher work requirements and introduce new ones for low-income Americans, it’s is important to remember that they are mostly ineffective.

In June 2016, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities conducted a review of work requirement experiments and policies for cash assistance recipients which found that work requirements only increased employment among recipients by a small percentage. That trend notably tended to fade over time.

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The review also found that voluntary employment programs were the best alternative to those work requirements, significantly boosting employment without ending basic assistance for individuals and families who are unable to meet the mandatory work requirements.