How the Farm Bill Could Reduce or Eliminate SNAP Benefits for Two Million People

On April 18, the House Agricultural Committee approved H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018. Commonly known as the 2018 Farm Bill, H.R. 2 is the latest in a long line of Farm Bills enacted since the Great Depression that sets a five-year plan for a range of agriculture and food policies, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 

Each year, over 43 million Americans, including almost 20 million children, rely on SNAP benefits for critical food assistance. This basic benefit helps low-income families survive. Unfortunately, the House’s version of the 2018 Farm Bill contains damaging changes to SNAP that threaten the ability of millions of low-income families who depend on the program to put food on the table.

Among those changes are proposals to impose strict work requirements to qualify for SNAP along with harsh penalties for failing to meet those requirements. For example, abled-bodied adults aged 18 to 59 without a child under six years old would have to prove they’re either working 20 hours a week or enrolled in a training program to keep their SNAP benefits. If they can’t meet those requirements, or are unable to receive a waiver, they could face an initial 12-month ban from participating in the program. Future failures to meet the requirement could lead to three years of program ineligibility.

The bill also introduces policies around the issue of savings penalties (also known as asset limits), which require families to spend down their savings before they can receive SNAP assistance. With more savings, families on SNAP will be in a better position to weather financial shocks, avoid predatory lending practices and move up the economic ladder.

On one hand, H.R. 2 increases the overall level of assets families are allowed to accumulate before they can no longer get SNAP benefits. But that proposal is undermined by the bill’s elimination of broad-based categorical eligibility—which gives states the flexibility to increase or remove savings penalties entirely.

In brief, broad-based categorical eligibility allows states to forgo the federal savings penalties by making the asset limits and income requirements of SNAP and their local Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs the same. Through this method, states can make SNAP savings penalties equal to that of TANF (whose savings penalties vary by state), which can lead either to the termination of SNAP savings penalties or an increase in the maximum level of assets allowed to receive SNAP benefits.

To date, 34 states and Washington, DC have used this flexibility afforded by federal law to eliminate savings penalties in SNAP. This has allowed families to accumulate modest savings without fear of losing access to critical supports. Without this leeway, states will no longer be able to opt out of the federal asset limit, which could hurt families’ ability to save and maintain financial security.

Research by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that two million people could see their SNAP benefits reduced or eliminated if this bill is enacted into law. By instituting harsh work requirements and forcing families to spend down modest savings just to have access to anti-hunger and anti-poverty supports, H.R. 2 would only serve to cut the SNAP program while creating punitive barriers towards upward mobility.

Rather than discouraging low-income families from saving, or forcing them to get rid of whatever few assets they might have to receive assistance, we should actively support families to save and invest in their future and help them move out of poverty. 

Consideration of the 2018 Farm Bill on the House floor could happen as early as mid-May. Contact your Representative today and ask them to oppose this harmful bill.

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