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Bush Files to Strike Expanded Work Requirements for SNAP Out of Debt Limit Bill

“Work requirements are ineffective at best, and deadly at worst,” Rep. Cori Bush said.

Rep. Cori Bush speaks during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on January 26, 2023.

Ahead of Wednesday’s House vote on the debt ceiling deal, progressive lawmakers have introduced a pair of amendments to remove provisions that would hurt the nation’s most economically vulnerable populations.

On Tuesday, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts) filed an amendment to the legislation that would strike a provision buried in the bill that would restart student loan payments at the end of this summer and prohibit the Biden administration from further extending the pause.

“The student loan payment pause has been an essential lifeline for workers and families struggling to make ends meet,” Pressley said in a statement on the amendment. “Republicans continue to play games with our economy, with disregard for our most vulnerable families.”

Pressley’s proposal is popular among the public. According to polling released by the Student Borrower Protection Center and Data for Progress on Tuesday, 61 percent of voters say that the payment pause should be extended if the Supreme Court strikes down Biden’s cancellation plan, which it appears poised to do.

“The pause on student loan payments remains one of the most durably popular pieces of economic policy because the American people recognize what Washington has long struggled to understand: the student loan system is broken and the burden of student debt creates a barrier to economic opportunity for all of us,” said Student Borrower Protection Center executive director Mike Pierce in a statement. “The debt limit deal raises the stakes even higher for millions of working people with student debt.”

Also on Tuesday, Representatives Cori Bush (D-Missouri) and Barbara Lee (D-California) introduced an amendment to the debt limit bill that would remove an expansion to work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps.

Republicans have proposed extending the age range in which people have to prove that they’re working in order to receive SNAP benefits — which are already notoriously hard to receive — from 49 years to 54 years old. The proposal has been harshly criticized by progressives and anti-hunger advocates, who say that such a proposal could leave thousands of people to experience food insecurity just because Republicans didn’t think they deserved to eat.

“Republicans’ insistence that the federal government rip food from vulnerable people’s mouths in order to solve their manufactured crisis is despicable and frankly outrageous,” said Bush and Lee in a joint statement about their amendment. “Work requirements are ineffective at best, and deadly at worst. Allowing people to starve and children to go hungry is not a solution to any problem — it’s racist, classist, and inhumane.”

The amendment has been cosponsored by Representatives Jamaal Bowman (D-New York), Gwen Moore (D-Wisconsin) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan).

The debt ceiling deal struck between House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-California) and President Joe Biden furthers Republicans’ objective of weakening SNAP and reducing the number of recipients through more work requirements, though the GOP says their goal is to reduce government spending.

A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report out Tuesday night found that, contrary to Republicans’ supposed fiscal responsibility, the SNAP changes would actually end up costing $2.1 billion more within the next ten years, while an estimated 78,000 more people would be eligible for SNAP benefits, due to new exclusions to work requirements like for veterans and people experiencing homelessness. (Bush and Lee’s amendments are targeted at getting rid of the age hike and would keep the new exclusions.)

But CBO’s findings may be overly simplistic, progressives and experts have said. The finding is “HIGHLY theoretical,” wrote The American Prospect executive editor David Dayen on Twitter on Wednesday. “There’s no funding to identify eligible people without benefits or to help them apply or find the necessary documentation. I obviously haven’t seen the model but it seems like wishful thinking to me.”

Dayen further pointed out that it is highly unlikely that SNAP would be able to inform all unhoused people, for instance, that they were newly eligible for the program, and that it could distribute and process all the paperwork necessary to prove their eligibility.Lawmakers have also expressed skepticism over the CBO finding. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts) told Politico that kicking hundreds of thousands of people aged 50 to 54 off of SNAP couldn’t be balanced out with the new work requirement exclusions. “This is a food benefit. So moving the deck chairs around and saying, you get food, but you don’t — that’s not a very convincing argument to me,” McGovern said.

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