After becoming a sticking point in debt limit negotiations, a House Agriculture committee hearing on Wednesday revealed another battle may be brewing over work requirements for food assistance.
That battle could take shape in the upcoming Farm Bill, an omnibus agriculture policy bill enacted every five years, with the deadline to pass the legislation just months away.
“Last week the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, became a significant focus of the debt ceiling negotiations, which laid bare the strong emotions and opinions across the political spectrum,” Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., said in his opening statement.
SNAP is a government program that provides food assistance to low-income households.
Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday hit back against the new requirements for SNAP included in the debt limit bill, expressing concern Republicans will continue to push for more in this year’s Farm Bill and pledging to fight back.
“Let me say this at the outset: my Democratic colleagues and I have said, and we will continue to say, we stand united against any efforts to take food away from children, families or any vulnerable American in this Farm Bill or any legislation,” Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., the ranking Democrat on the panel, said in his opening remarks.
Wednesday’s hearing was the committee’s first on the nutrition title of the Farm Bill. In the most recent bill set to expire in September, nutrition, which includes SNAP, accounted for more than 75% of spending, according to the USDA.
The hearing covered multiple topics, including fraud in food assistance programs, as well as the health and eligibility of those receiving benefits.
“The majority of Americans think able-bodied adults without children should have to work or seek work or get the training to get a job,” Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said.
“How can we use SNAP and work together collaboratively to connect those unemployed with employers begging for workers and causing this inflation?” Rep. Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, asked one of the witnesses.
Previously, SNAP has been a hurdle to reauthorizing the legislation. In 2018, passage was delayed when Republicans wanted to increase work requirements for those receiving benefits while Democrats resisted.
This year, it became a key part of negotiations between President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., over suspending the nation’s debt ceiling as the GOP looked to slash government spending.
The debt limit bill, which the president signed into law on Saturday, implements work requirements to receive SNAP for able-bodied, childless adults aged 18 to 54. Before the bill, the requirements applied to those up to age 49. Veterans, people experiencing homelessness and some adults who were previously in foster care are exempt from the requirements.
“[Republicans] didn’t get all they wanted because President Biden stopped them from passing the worst version of their bill, so now they want to use the Farm Bill as an excuse to kick even more people off the benefit,” Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said Wednesday. “The freedom caucus has all kinds of red lines that they are drawing that we all have to supposedly adhere to, well I have a red line too: You cut snap, you make more people in this country hungry, then we are against this Farm Bill. We will fight against this Farm Bill.”
After the House passed the debt limit bill last week, McCarthy signaled the push for more work requirements may not be over, which many Democrats pointed to during Wednesday’s hearing.
“Let’s get the rest of the IRS agents. Let’s get the rest of the work requirements. Let’s cut more because we are in a big debt,” he said.