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Farm Bill Is Bad News for States, Research Group Says

Allison Inserro
The Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, as proposed in the House of Representatives, would make the program more complicated to administer for states, impose new mandates, and take away program flexibility, while leaving low-income households at risk of losing so-called food stamps, now called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, according to a new research report. 
The Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, as proposed in the House of Representatives, would make the program more complicated to administer for states, impose new mandates, and take away program flexibility, while leaving low-income households at risk of losing so-called food stamps, now called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, a research institute said Tuesday.

A House vote is expected on the bill, HR 2, Thursday or Friday, said the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), which released a report examining the bill’s impact on states. It said changes would increase state costs and significantly undermine almost 2 decades of progress in simplifying, streamlining, and modernizing SNAP, which has led to an uptake in working families eligible for food benefits receiving them.

The CBPP said in 2002, 43% of those eligible for food benefits received them, and now more than 70% do.

The bill is a “bad deal for states,” said Stacy Dean, CBPP’s vice president for food assistance policy, in a call explaining the report with the media.

The bill would:
  • Force states to collect monthly information from up to 7 million SNAP recipients about their hours worked, their hours of participation in work programs, and the reasons they may not be working or participating in a work program. This is a change from current rules put in place that allow states to document only major changes every 6 months.
  • Require states to run much larger employment and training (E&T) programs without the flexibility or funding required, leading to a waste of resources on what CBPP called “ineffective, poorly targeted employment services rather than being allowed to invest resources in effective job training efforts.”
  • Impose paperwork burdens and removes existing options to limit the documentation households need to submit to prove that they don’t have much money in the bank, the worth of their vehicle, and documentation of utility bills.
  • Mandate that states impose child support requirements that most states have chosen not to impose. The CBPP said evidence shows they would be costly to implement, would not result in significant increases in child support collections, and would risk cutting SNAP to families that need it. States currently have the option of taking away SNAP from parents who don’t participate in the child support program. Only 6 states have taken the option, but this bill would mandate it. Utah studied the option and concluded that it would do more harm than good, the CBPP said.
The farm bill would force states to create entire new systems to track millions of people monthly, hire staff, and would likely require the creation of 3 million job slots in a typical month in 2021 when the new rules would take effect, which would be “unprecedented,” the report said.

As with the Medicaid work requirement rules that the Trump administration is allowing states to implement, this proposed legislative change is part of an overall shift in how some in Washington, DC, view benefits for low-income households, saying it puts the poor on a path to self sufficiency.

While Medicaid work requirements are optional for states to implement, these would not be, and the penalty for an individual not understanding or not being able to comply with the documentation rules would mean the loss of food benefits for 1 year for the first offense and 3 years for the second offense.

For all individuals aged 18 through 59 who do not receive disability benefits and have no children under age 6 in their household, states would need to determine every month whether the individual worked 20 hours a week, participated in a qualifying job training program, or should have been exempted from the work requirement, for example, because of a temporary disability.

For low-wage workers, it is going to be hard to guarantee 20 hours of work every week, CBPP said, because they may not be scheduled for shifts—one week they may have 22, another week they may only have 15. Single mothers with children older than 6 are likely to be hit hard by the rules, CBPP said.

Advocates like the CBPP say SNAP helps 1 in 8 Americans afford a basic diet and works out to about $1.40 a meal.

Studies have shown that adults using SNAP have lower health expenditures and that food insecurity is one of the key indicators of social determinants of health (SDOH), the factors that contribute to a person’s health, such as where they live and work, their housing situation, and their access to healthy food. It’s an issue getting more and more attention from all sectors of healthcare, from payers to health organizations to providers.

In addition, food insecurity was also a focus of a National Quality Forum report last year about SDOH.

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Report Says Farm Bill Work Rules Will Worsen Food Insecurity
 
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