Farm Bill 101
SNAP is part of the Farm Bill, a piece of legislation that is renewed (aka “reauthorized”) every five years. The rest of the Farm Bill includes food and agriculture programs such as crop insurance and subsidies and rural development.
Historically, Farm Bills have been reauthorized with bipartisan support, in large part thanks to the longtime urban-rural coalition of lawmakers and advocates that coalesces in support of both SNAP and agriculture programs. However, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway of Texas has been making statements that suggest he may pursue a partisan Farm Bill this year because he appears to be considering deep cuts in SNAP benefits in the House Agriculture Committee’s version.
The Farm Bill needs to be reauthorized by September 30, 2018. In the last few Farm Bill cycles, the House and Senate have passed their own versions of the Farm Bill (which are written by the respective Agriculture Committees). Then the House and Senate must come together to reconcile their differences and pass one identical version.
On June 21, the House passed the Agriculture Committee’s (the Committee) farm bill,]which includes nutrition provisions that would increase food insecurity and hardship. By adopting harmful amendments during floor debate in May, the House made the bill that ultimately passed even worse than the version the Committee originally introduced. The proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) would end or cut benefits for a substantial number of low-income people.
- The bill contains changes that would cause more than 1 million low-income households with more than 2 million people — particularly low-income working families with children — to lose their benefits altogether or have them reduced. The House would use these benefit cuts, in part, to pay for a few modest benefit enhancements. But the net effect of all these provisions on SNAP benefits would still be a significant cut overall, and a substantial number of people would lose their SNAP benefits altogether. The remaining savings from the eligibility and benefit cuts would go to expanding state and federal bureaucracies and financing various grant programs outside of SNAP, at the expense of low-income families and individuals whose basic food assistance would end or shrink.
- In particular, the plan includes sweeping, aggressive new work requirements that would likely prove unworkable and do substantially more harm than good, fueling increases in hunger and poverty. These provisions would force states to develop large new bureaucracies, but research suggests that these requirements would do little to increase employment. This expensive and risky approach runs counter to evidence-based policy making, particularly since the results from work pilots for SNAP recipients that the 2014 farm bill established, which are well underway, aren’t yet available. Moreover, experience suggests that the bill’s proposed work requirements would leave substantial numbers of low-income people who have various barriers to employment — such as very limited skills or mental health issues like depression — with neither earnings nor food assistance.
- The plan would also impose significant new state mandates and roll back numerous areas of state flexibility that were designed on a bipartisan basis in prior farm bills to streamline and modernize program operations and make the program easier for states to administer and for eligible households, particularly working families, to navigate. The American Public Human Services Administration has raised significant concerns with multiple provisions of the bill, including those that would reinstate a benefit cliff, limit state flexibility, and introduce significant administrative burden. The organization states, “[E]stimates [that] up to two million current individual SNAP recipients, many of them children, in one million mostly working SNAP households could either lose benefits or eligibility altogether under this bill because of often unwise policy proposals [are] disturbing to us.
Coming just months after a tax-cut bill that will cost $1.9 trillion over ten years (including interest costs) and lavishes tax cuts on wealthy individuals and large, profitable corporations, the SNAP proposals would further widen the nation’s economic divide.
The Farm bill that passed the Senate Agriculture Committee on June 13 includes a bipartisan nutrition title that would reauthorize the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) and improve SNAP’s program integrity and operations. The bill also would expand the 2014 farm bill’s pilot program to test promising approaches to job training and other employment-related activities for SNAP participants and would make targeted investments in SNAP to help seniors and people with disabilities, as well as Indian Tribes. And, the bill would make changes to and increase funding for certain grant programs outside of SNAP.
This approach reaffirms SNAP’s importance for struggling households that can’t afford a basic diet without its help. It stands in stark contrast to the House farm bill’s SNAP provisions, which would end or cut benefits for more than 2 million individuals in more than 1 million households. In addition, Senate provisions improving program oversight and integrity and streamlining program operations would yield a stronger program for the 1 in 8 Americans who use SNAP benefits to afford food.
The nutrition title of the Senate Agriculture Committee farm bill would be cost neutral over the ten-year budget window, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Savings, primarily from SNAP, would be reinvested in SNAP and other nutrition grant programs.
What’s At Stake
For months, we’ve been hearing Speaker Ryan and other congressional leaders talk about proposals to cut and make harmful changes to federal programs that help families of limited means afford food, housing, health care, and other basic needs—first under the banner of “welfare reform” and now with the misleading language of “workforce development.” The Trump Administration has already started advancing this agenda by allowing states to take away health coverage from Medicaid participants and create barriers that will make it harder for people to work and succeed in today’s economy.
The most important thing to know is that SNAP works:
- SNAP fights poverty. By helping people cover a basic need like putting food on the table, SNAP keeps more than eight million people out of poverty—including nearly four million children.
- SNAP is a strong public-private partnership. SNAP benefits are spent at more than 250,000 grocers and local food retailers around the country.
- SNAP is good for public health. SNAP is linked with reduced health care costs because it reduces food insecurity. And SNAP’s impact on children can last a lifetime. For example, research shows that adults who received food stamps as young children are more likely to graduate from high school and less likely to suffer long-term health problems like obesity and heart disease.
- SNAP is efficient. SNAP already does a lot with too little. Even though the food assistance SNAP provides is extremely modest—averaging only about $1.40 per person per meal—it’s a lifesaver for many Americans. In addition, out of all public benefit programs, SNAP has one of the most rigorous systems to determine eligibility upfront. As a result, SNAP also has a low error rate, meaning that the vast majority of SNAP benefits are issued correctly to eligible households.
How to Talk about SNAP and the Farm Bill
Topline Message: Cuts and harmful changes to SNAP that take away people’s food
have no place in the Farm Bill. We urge Congress to focus on policies that help create jobs and boost wages, rather than punishing people who are already facing economic hardship.
- Establish a common goal and draw on shared values.
We all win when our communities are healthy and prosperous. That’s why we have a shared responsibility to keep our neighbors and community members from going hungry.
We can all agree that helping people who can work get good-paying jobs and succeed is a good goal, but more rigid and restrictive SNAP work requirements won’t help us get there.
- Assert that SNAP is a successful program with far-reaching, positive impacts. SNAP is our nation’s most effective anti-hunger program, helping 1 in 8 Americans put food on the table.
Who SNAP helps
All over the country, far too many Americans are struggling to make ends meet.
- Some have lost their jobs, some have faced a health crisis or other costly emergency, and some are managing a long-term disability.
- Many work long days at low wages that simply aren’t always enough to get by. SNAP helps families stretch their budgets further by making it possible for workers earning low pay to put food on the table.
How SNAP makes a difference
SNAP, also known as food stamps, helps struggling families and workers afford a basic diet.
- Millions of Americans turn to SNAP when they hit tough times or are struggling to get by on low wages.
- No matter who they are—a senior living on a fixed income, a working mom earning $10 an hour, or a homeless vet—millions of Americans use SNAP to help them afford groceries.
- SNAP is especially critical to our loved ones and neighbors who are most in need. Nearly two-thirds of those who use the program are children, the elderly, or people with disabilities.
Why SNAP is a success story
SNAP works. It has long been one of our nation’s most powerful and effective poverty-reduction programs. When you’re able to cover a basic need like putting food on the table, you can get back on your feet more quickly. That’s how SNAP keeps more than eight million people out of poverty—including nearly four million children.
SNAP is good for public health.
- SNAP is linked with reduced health care costs. On average, low-income adults participating in SNAP incur about $1,400, or nearly 25 percent, less in medical care costs in a year than low-income adults who don’t participate in SNAP. The difference is even greater for those with hypertension (nearly $2,700 less) and coronary heart disease (over $4,100 less).
- SNAP’s impact on children can last a lifetime. For example, research shows that adults who received food stamps as young children are more likely to graduate from high school and less likely to suffer long-term health problems like obesity and heart disease. Individuals who participate in SNAP also have lower overall health care costs.
- The House Farm Bill endangers the long-term bipartisan commitment to preventing hunger. The proposed cuts and changes to SNAP will take away food from children, working people, people struggling to find jobs, and others struggling to make ends meet.
- SNAP helps struggling families and workers put healthy food on their tables. SNAP, not private charity, is the front-line against hunger. According to a Feeding America analysis, SNAP provides 12 meals for every 1 meal that Feeding America’s network of food bank provides. There’s no way that private charities could make up for these cuts in SNAP, which means more people in our community would go hungry.
- SNAP is an incredibly effective anti-hunger program. We urge Congress not to cut or include harmful changes to SNAP in the Farm Bill. Don’t try to “fix” what isn’t broken.
- Taking food assistance from people struggling to find a job, working families, and seniors is the wrong approach for this Farm Bill. Such an approach is likely to be partisan and controversial.
- Instead of talking about policy changes focused on punishing people struggling to find jobs and making people hungrier, we ought to be talking about building upon SNAP’s strengths. SNAP is a sound investment with respect to health outcomes as well as long-term education and employment outcomes. Strengthening, not cutting, SNAP is the right pathway forward.