Debt ceiling talks feature tougher SNAP requirements

Debt ceiling negotiations are still ongoing and we still don’t have an agreement. A talking point: food stamps. Some Congressional Republicans want older Americans to prove they are working or looking for at least part-time work to get those benefits.

Work requirements for federal food aid are not new. They were largely suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic and are gradually coming back.

But generally, since the mid-1990s, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — known as SNAP — has had rules. Able-bodied adults under 50 must work at least 20 hours a week if they have no dependents.

That would change under the GOP plan.

“It just pushes the upper age limit to 56,” said Matt Weidinger, senior fellow at the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute. He supports this idea – in part, in principle.

“There are no big budget savings associated with this, it rather boils down to whether individuals should do something in return for benefits,” he said.

Weidinger thinks the budget savings would also help. Additionally, he said more working older Americans could contribute to the labor shortage.

Donna Ginther, an economics professor at the University of Kansas, said she understands why federal spending cuts are on the table.

“The social safety net is a huge part of the cost to the federal government,” she said. “And it’s very difficult to get budget deficits under control without touching the social safety net.”

But, Ginther said, SNAP benefits were already reduced when the pandemic emergency was lifted, and that’s on top of soaring grocery bills these days.

“We had huge food inflation. So we are hesitant to make more people go hungry, by putting these restrictions in place,” she said.

Some states already have work requirements for adults in their 50s, including Kansas State of Ginther. Nearly 10% of people there are food insecure.

“If we go into a recession, then these policies are going to have a real impact,” Ginther said.

She argues that the changes to SNAP would be especially felt by children and people with disabilities. But they could also have wider consequences, even for people who are already working but have unpredictable schedules.

“Because they may have fluctuating hours that they can’t control when they’re going to be scheduled,” said Elizabeth Lower-Basch of the Center for Law and Social Policy.

She says one of the effects would be increased pressure on food banks as people look for alternatives to feed their families.

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