Discussion: (0 comments)
There are no comments available.
A public policy blog from AEI
View related content: Poverty Studies
The House of Representatives Agriculture Committee released its proposal for the 2018 Farm Bill this week. The legislation covers federal agriculture policy, but also provides re-authorization for the country’s main food assistance program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The SNAP portion of the Farm Bill makes a number of needed improvements, but notably misses the mark on strengthening the nutritional aspect of the program. Here are a few key takeaways:
1) The proposal includes funding for two different approaches aimed at improving nutrition among SNAP participants. One involves a retailer-funded incentive program, where stores provide a bonus to SNAP recipients who purchase fruit, vegetables, or milk. The retailer-funded bonus would be reimbursed by the federal government. The second approach is to double-down on incentives and provide funding for states to offer incentives to SNAP participants to purchase fruits and vegetables.
Regrettably, the Farm Bill proposal includes nothing to test the impact of SNAP restrictions on nutrition and health. Past research already shows that incentive programs (such as the retailer-funded program) increases consumption of fruits and vegetables, but does nothing to reduce the consumption of harmful foods like sugary beverages. Not addressing the issue of sugary beverage consumption among SNAP participants in the Farm Bill misses a critical opportunity to improve the health of low-income households.
2) The Farm Bill proposal appropriately addresses the issue of “categorical eligibility.” Categorical eligibility is when a household is automatically eligible for SNAP because they receive a benefit or service from another means-tested program. This provision has been used in many states to eliminate the asset test for SNAP (see a good explainer here). The Farm Bill proposal makes it clear that categorical eligibility only makes a household eligible for SNAP if they receive a cash benefit from another program. Ultimately, this reflects the original intent of the provision, in which recipients of cash assistance from SSI or TANF are automatically eligible for SNAP, instead of allowing states to use it to expand SNAP eligibility.
The proposal also increases the asset limits from $2,000 to $7,000 and $3,000 to $12,000 for households without and with an elderly person, respectively. And it increases the vehicle allowance to $12,000. Increasing the asset limits is a fair approach to no longer allowing states to eliminate the asset test entirely.
Sign up for The Ledger newsletter
3) Under current law, states have the option of requiring that SNAP participants cooperate with the child support enforcement agency. The Farm Bill proposal eliminates the state option and makes it mandatory, similar to what is currently required in TANF. A report published in 2016 through AEI and authored by Dr. Daniel Schroeder called for something similar. As he concluded, this “would ensure the [child support enforcement] program would help keep families with children out of poverty and make sure absent parents meet their responsibilities.”
4) In perhaps the most consequential change, the proposal calls for extending work requirements in SNAP. Under existing law, adults aged 18–49 who are capable of work but have no dependents can only receive SNAP benefits for 3 months in a 36 month period unless they work or engage in a work activity for 80 hours in a month. The proposed Farm Bill extends these requirements to parents of school-aged children and up to age 60. It also requires that states offer services that satisfy the requirements and provides funding to help them do it.
This would be a major step forward in reorienting safety net programs toward work. We know that most SNAP recipients who are capable of work are already working or have worked in the past, but many are not. In fact, as my colleague Robert Doar pointed out in a recent testimony, more than 9 million SNAP recipients appear able to work but do not report earnings to the SNAP agency. An expectation of work and funding to support it, as proposed in the Farm Bill, could reduce that number, move even more families toward work, and ensure that SNAP supports work rather than enables unemployment.
One concern, however, is the ability of states to waive the work requirement when state unemployment rates are higher than the national average. This is currently allowed for adults without dependents and the Farm Bill proposes to extend it to those newly eligible for the requirement, although it makes one change by not allowing a waiver under one scenario if the 2-year average unemployment rate is below 6%.
But other waiver provisions still unfairly benefit states with unemployment rates consistently higher than the national average. For example, California has not had a work requirement for more than a decade, even though the state unemployment rate is 4.3%. A better approach is to tighten the criteria for which a state can qualify for a waiver, perhaps by only allowing a waiver if a state has an unemployment rate 20% higher than the national average and greater than 8%.
Bottom line: The SNAP proposals in the Farm Bill have been criticized as too partisan, perhaps jeopardizing passage of other needed agriculture policy improvements. It remains to be seen whether House Republicans will compromise on some of these SNAP provisions to get a broader Farm Bill passed. But with the exception of not addressing the harmful effects of sugary beverages in SNAP, the House Agriculture Committee’s approach is a welcome change to years of ignoring the role of employment in SNAP.
UPDATE: This post has been updated to reflect that under one scenario in the Farm Bill proposal where a waiver of employment requirements could be considered it would not allow states to waive the SNAP work requirement if the 2-year average unemployment rate is below 6%.
There are no comments available.
1789 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036
© 2018 American Enterprise Institute