House Republicans push tougher work requirements for food stamps

The House Agriculture Committee has voted along party lines to approve new work requirements for food stamps -- a move fiercely opposed by Democrats and that could spell trouble for the farm bill working its way through Congress.

The GOP-backed legislation would tighten already existing work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), while expanding funding for state training programs.

Currently, those 18-59 are required to enroll for work or take a job if offered. Rules are stricter for able-bodied adults without dependents between 18 and 49, who are subjected to a three-month limit of benefits unless they work for 80 hours a month or participate in work training.

The legislation passed Wednesday by the committee would require all “work capable adults” between 18-59 to work or participate in work training for 20 hours per week. The tweak means a greater number of people would have to work or enroll in work training.

According to a committee fact sheet, seniors, disabled people, those caring for children under 6 and pregnant women would be exempt.

The proposal, which The Hill reports would trim SNAP enrollment by up to a million people and decrease spending by $20 billion over 10 years, is part of the 2018 farm bill. SNAP benefits are currently distributed to approximately 40 million people according to the Associated Press.

But Democrats furiously objected to the SNAP reforms, claiming it could throw as many as 2 million people off the program and create bulky bureaucracies to keep up with extensive rule keeping, while not providing enough money for job training.

"This legislation would create giant, untested bureaucracies at the state level. It cuts more than $9 billion in benefits and rolls those savings into state slush funds where they can use the money to operate other aspects of SNAP," said Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., the top Democrat on the Committee. "Let me be clear: this bill, as currently written, kicks people off the SNAP program."

Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., who objected to measures cutting funding for land conservation programs, described the bill as a "Harm Bill."

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said that Democrats would not support what she called a “radical, harmful” bill.

“Every dollar in SNAP for hungry families returns money to farmers, to our economy and to the Treasury. But after the GOP tax scam’s giveaways for the wealthiest, Republicans are slashing tens of billions from SNAP, threatening to leave millions of seniors, veterans, individuals with disabilities, students and families without the means to put food on the table,” she said in a statement.

But Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said it would offer those on food stamps the hope of a job and a better future.

“The farm bill also keeps faith with these families by not only maintaining SNAP benefits but by offering SNAP beneficiaries a springboard out of poverty to a good paying job, and opportunity for a better way of life for themselves and their families,” Conaway said.

The Hill reports that the legislation faces opposition from even moderate Democrats and that it is unclear if it would even pass the House. A House vote rejected a farm bill in 2013 over SNAP reform. That vote resulted in a new bill that passed in 2014 and cut benefits by about one percent.

The move comes after President Trump, earlier this month, signed an executive order aiming to harden up work requirements for welfare and public assistance programs. The order, whch aims to reduce poverty “ by promoting opportunity and economic mobility.” The order calls for agencies to strengthen work requirements and to look for new ones.

“Unfortunately, many of the programs designed to help families have instead delayed economic independence, perpetuated poverty, and weakened family bonds,” the order said.

Fox News’ Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.