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House GOP Pushes Bill Targeting Food Assistance for the Poor

The legislation would impose more harsh work requirements on certain recipients amid growing food insecurity.

Rep. Dusty Johnson speaks during a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center on January 11, 2023.

More than a dozen House Republicans are expected to release legislation Tuesday that would impose more harsh work requirements on certain recipients of federal food aid, a clear signal that the GOP intends to target nutrition assistance in critical debt ceiling, budget, and farm bill talks.

Led by Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), the measure would “expand the age bracket for able-bodied [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] recipients without dependents, who have to meet complicated work requirements,” according to Politico, which obtained a copy of the bill ahead of its official introduction.

Johnson’s legislation, which currently has 14 Republican co-sponsors, would broaden the SNAP work requirement age bracket for able-bodied adults without dependents to 18 to 65, adding 16 years to the current age ceiling of 49, Politico reported. Former President Donald Trump previously proposed raising the age ceiling to 62.

Under SNAP rules, people categorized as able-bodied adults without dependents are only allowed to receive federal food benefits for three months during any three-year period when they aren’t employed or taking part in work training, a restriction that experts and advocates have long decried as cruel and punitive.

“Essentially, this is a time limit — which disproportionately affects people of color — that takes SNAP away when people aren’t working, withholding food as a punishment for not having a stable job,” the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes.

Most adult SNAP recipients already work, though they are often precarious, low-wage jobs with poor benefits.

While Johnson and other Republicans claim their support for more stringent SNAP work requirements stems from a desire to boost employment, research has repeatedly shown that they are ineffective at doing so. Work requirements do, however, succeed at booting many people off the program.

States are currently allowed to request waivers for the SNAP benefit time limits, but Johnson’s bill would constrain the federal government’s ability to grant such requests, Politico reported.

“These guys talk about states’ rights all the time, except when it comes to poor people,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said in response to the GOP bill.

Johnson’s legislation comes as food insecurity is mounting across the U.S. after emergency SNAP benefit expansions lapsed earlier this month, slashing benefits for tens of millions of people amid high food prices. The cuts — the result of an end-of-year deal in Congress — have been dramatic for many, costing families hundreds of dollars per month in food aid.

“These enhanced benefits were a lifeline for millions — many of whom will now go hungry,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “And Republicans want to cut these programs even further.”

Politico reported that while Democratic lawmakers are publicly voicing opposition to the Republican Party’s latest attack on food benefits, “some House Democrats are quietly raising alarms about their lack of plans to push back on the GOP proposals.”

“We need to be prepared for a showdown on food security — and right now, we’re not ready,” one unnamed House Democrat told the outlet.

Anti-hunger campaigners are pushing Democrats to protect food benefits and fight for a permanent SNAP expansion during upcoming farm bill negotiations.

But as Slate’s Alexander Sammon wrote last week, “the lack of willingness to fight for SNAP when it was already expanded is not a heartening sign.”

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