By the Associated Press
The House pressed ahead Friday toward a showdown vote on a bill that combines stricter work and job training requirements for food stamp recipients with a renewal of farm subsidies popular in Republican-leaning farm country. But the measure’s chances remain iffy because of an unrelated scrap over immigration.
The food and farm measure promises greater job training opportunities for recipients of food stamps, a top priority for House leaders like Speaker Paul Ryan. Democrats are strongly opposed, saying the stricter work and job training rules are poorly designed and would drive 2 million people off of food stamps.
Passage is threatened by an unrelated revolt over immigration, with some conservatives threatening to withhold support for the food and farm bill unless they are promised a vote on a hardline immigration plan.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Friday that the vote is going forward as scheduled and he predicted the measure would pass.
Currently, adults 18-59 are required to work part-time to receive food stamps, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or agree to accept a job if they’re offered one. Stricter rules apply to able-bodied adults 18-49, who are subject to a three-month limit of benefits unless they meet a work or job training requirement of 80 hours per month.
Under the new bill, the tougher requirement would be expanded to apply to all adults on SNAP, with exceptions for of seniors, pregnant women, caretakers of children under the age of 6, or people with disabilities.
“It sets up a system for SNAP recipients where if you are able to work, you should work to get the benefits,” said Ryan, R-Wis.” And if you can’t work, we’ll help you get the training you need. We will help you get the skills you need to get an opportunity.”
The measure greatly expands funding for state-administered job training programs, but Democrats and outside critics say the funding for the proposed new job training would require huge new bureaucracies, extensive record-keeping requirements, and that the funding levels would fall far short of what’s enough to provide job training to everybody covered by the new job training requirements.
“While I agree that there are changes that need to be made to the SNAP program, this is so clearly not the way to do it,” said Rep. Colin Peterson of Minnesota, top Democrat of the Agriculture Committee. “The bill cuts more than $23 billion in SNAP benefits and will result in an estimated 2 million Americans unable to get the help they need.”
He said it “turns around and wastes billions … cut from SNAP benefits to create a massive, untested workforce training bureaucracy.”
In addition to food stamps, the measure would renew farm safety-net programs such as subsidies for crop insurance, farm credit and land conservation. Those subsidies for farm country traditionally form the backbone of support for the measure among Republicans, while urban Democrats support food aid for the poor.
On Thursday, supporters of the agriculture safety net easily defeated an attempt to weaken the government’s sugar program, which critics say gouges consumers by propping up sugar prices.
The measure mostly tinkers with farm programs, adding provisions aimed at boosting high-speed internet access in rural areas, assist beginning farmers, and ease regulations on producers. But since the measure makes mostly modest adjustments to farm policy, some lawmakers believe that the most likely course of action this year is a temporary extension of the current measure, which expires at the end of September.
Earlier this year, Rep. Michael Conaway. R-Texas, the House Agriculture chairman, and other senior policymakers addressed problems in the cotton and dairy sectors as part of a two-year budget bill.
In the Senate, the chamber’s filibuster rules require a bipartisan process for a bill to pass. There, Agriculture Committee Chairman Pay Roberts, R-Kan., promises a competing bill later this month and he’s signaling that its changes to food stamps would be far more modest than the House measure.
The House measure also would cut funding for land conservation programs long championed by Democrats, prompting criticism from environmental groups. At the same time, it contains a proposal backed by pesticide manufacturers such as the Dow Chemical Company that would streamline the process for approving pesticides by allowing the Environmental Protection Agency to skip reviews required under the Endangered Species Act.