WASHINGTON ― For decades, House Republicans have wanted stricter rules for food stamp recipients — and this year seemed like their chance to finally make those provisions a reality.
Republicans control the House, Senate, and White House. They have broad support in their party for tougher food stamp rules. And President Donald Trump, not usually known for policy detail, has tweeted about the need for new “work requirements” five times.
So it may come as a bit of a shock in the coming weeks when Republicans put forward a final farm bill compromise that does not include the GOP’s signature goal.
Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said Thursday that the final version of the legislation will not have the tougher work rules Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) had sought for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“We took a more comprehensive approach to provide program integrity, as opposed to extending age limits to moms that have kids that are 8 years old, so on and so forth,” Roberts told HuffPost.
Over the summer, the Senate passed a bipartisan farm bill that included modest anti-fraud provisions, while the House passed a Republican-only bill with new rules that would have reduced program enrollment by more than 1 million over 10 years.
More than 38 million Americans receive monthly SNAP benefits that can be used only to buy food in grocery stores. The program already has work requirements for the subset of recipients who are able-bodied adults without minor children. The House bill would have applied the requirements to parents of children older than 6 and unemployed adults in their 50s, who had previously been exempt.
The Senate GOP was never as gung-ho as the House about requiring work for food assistance, knowing a farm bill would eventually need Democratic support in order to get the requisite 60 votes in the Senate for passage. But it hasn’t been totally clear at any point during negotiations that Republicans would give in to the Senate’s provisions rather than just do a short-term extension and try to cut food stamps another day.
The House and Senate need to agree on a final compromise bill before any changes can become law. Roberts and several other members of the committee negotiating the final version said Thursday they were basically adopting the Senate version. But they declined to offer more specific details, saying they were waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to review the bill’s various titles. Roberts said that the language of the bill could still change if members don’t like the cost estimates.
“I’m told I’ll be happy, but I want to verify before I make any conclusive comment,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Ma.), one of SNAP’s strongest defenders in the House.