GOP denies food stamp work requirements in debt ceiling deal would increase enrollment, spending

Both conservative Republicans and progressive Democrats criticized the work requirements. 

Published: May 31, 2023 12:01pm

Updated: May 31, 2023 12:20pm

Top congressional Republicans are defending "work requirements" for government food assistance in the debt ceiling deal that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy negotiated with President Joe Biden after the Congressional Budget Office found that the measure would increase federal spending over the next decade for the program as more people would be eligible for benefits.

The bill would require able-bodied people up to the age of 54 who do not live with dependent children to work if they receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Exemptions are given to veterans, people under the age of 24 who were in foster care when they became adults and homeless people. The current law does not include these exemptions and only requires people to work if they are under the age of 50. Benefit recipients may fulfill current requirements by working for at least 80 hours a month, including volunteer work.

"CBO estimates that all of the changes to SNAP work requirements would increase direct spending by $2.1 billion over the 2023–2033 period," the budget office said in a report Tuesday.

Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) told reporters Wednesday that Republican support of work requirements is "not about saving a buck" but about helping "people escape poverty" and "grow this economy."

House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) said the proposed work requirement standards will "lift millions of people out of poverty."

If people up to the age of 54 are subject to the work requirement and the new exclusions are in place, "approximately 78,000 people would gain benefits in an average month, on net (an increase of about 0.2 percent in the total number of people receiving SNAP benefits)," the report also states.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) said the 78,000 people "are not new beneficiaries." He said the CBO "got it wrong and it was a factor of double-counting" as many of the people whom the CBO says would gain benefits are actually already eligible for benefits. He added that people lifted out of poverty would eventually become taxpayers and benefit the country, which the CBO does not take into account.

Thompson also pointed out how the report states that the changes to exemptions would reduce SNAP spending "by a negligible amount" and that the $2.1 billion estimated increase in spending is based on a non-peer-reviewed study released last year.

Both conservative Republicans and progressive Democrats criticized the work requirements.

"Even with the exemptions, it’s going to mean people have to go through a process, more bureaucratic red tape, to determine whether or not they qualify for those exemptions," Washington Democrat Rep. Pramilia Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said before the CBO report came out, according to HuffPost.

"The work requirements are so minor," said Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), who is a member of the House Freedom Caucus and said he would oppose the bill. "When you have a temporary increase in age but yet you have permanent increases in eligibility, [that] could very well go backwards for us in what SNAP is going to end up costing."

Madeleine Hubbard is an international correspondent for Just the News. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

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