The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Senate Farm Bill is a Disaster for Work Requirements

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


The strong economy offers much to celebrate.  Regulatory relief and the Trump tax cuts have sent the unemployment rate to historic lows, resulting in a booming business climate, higher wages, and more take home pay. 

Despite these rosy figures, food stamp use has declined only slightly in the last year; in 2017, it was significantly higher on average than in the infamous recession years of 2008 and 2009.  Last year, the number of Americans on food stamps was 42.1 million, down just 11 percent from the record 47.6 million in 2013.  In the never-ending battle to move people from government assistance to productive employment, it seems we often take one step forward and two steps back. 

Current federal law requires adults without dependents who are physically and mentally fit for work and are receiving Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to work, train, or volunteer for 20 hours per week; otherwise, they can receive benefits for only three months over a three-year period.  Not only does such a work requirement improve the wellbeing of poor Americans and generate taxpayer savings, but it also helps people move off food stamps—which should be the ultimate goal. 

States administer SNAP, formerly referred to as food stamps, and can ask for waivers from these work requirements.  Federal law clearly stipulates that only in areas with high unemployment may waivers be granted.  Unfortunately, the government has been creative with definitions and determinations in this regard, exempting more and more people from the work requirements.  These add up.  According to the Foundation for Government Accountability, 62 percent of able-bodied adults without dependents are currently exempt from work requirements. 

The House Farm Bill, formally called the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, which was passed on June 21, 2018, offers hope for those looking to improve SNAP outcomes.  It includes provisions to close loopholes that exempt beneficiaries from work requirements.  The reforms in House Farm Bill would reduce that total by 87 percent. 

Although this Farm Bill, like all the Farm Bills that Congress passes every few years, is loaded with every type of wasteful spending imaginable, we must give credit to the Representatives who are taking advantage of the Trump economy and keeping momentum alive for comprehensive, meaningful work requirements for food stamp recipients.  

If the House bill represents a step towards commonsense SNAP reforms, the Senate version of the Farm Bill is the corresponding two steps back.  The Senate bill does not contain the House-passed work requirements that are supported by President Trump.  Moreover, the Senate Farm Bill weakens the existing work requirement provisions and, at the very least, will create confusion and uncertainty among the states as they administer the program.

We should measure economic success not just by the profits of large corporations but also by reductions in the dependency of working people upon the government.  Especially during good economic times, moving Americans from food stamps to work should be a priority, because the best social program, period, is a job.  As we applaud House lawmakers for enhancing work requirements and protecting taxpayers, we must stand firm in opposition to the Senate’s approach.

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