Congress moves to tighten food stamp rules

Julia Werth / CTMirror.org

A Mobil Food Mart in Hartford that accepts SNAP electronic benefit cards..

Updated at 7:10 p.m.

Washington – A massive farm bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee Wednesday would end food stamp benefits for many childless adults in 114 Connecticut towns, unless those beneficiaries get a job or work training.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the official name for the food stamp program, and other nutrition assistance programs make-up about 80 percent of the farm bill’s $100 billion budget authority.

It’s a popular program with farmers, anti-hunger advocates and many lawmakers. But House Republicans are concerned the program is a disincentive for many who would otherwise pull themselves out of poverty.

Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and drafter of the five-year farm bill, said food stamps “are essential to helping many Americans feed themselves and their families.” But, he said, he also wanted the SNAP program to be “a springboard out of poverty to a good-paying job, and opportunity for a better way of life.”

Democrats say the changes to the food stamp program, which aim to save about $9 billion, are a mean-spirited degradation of a program that has been a bulwark of the social safety net for more than 50 years.

In Connecticut, about 400,000 residents, or 200,000 households, are enrolled in food stamps.

On Wednesday, on a party-line vote, the Agriculture Committee approved the farm bill with Conway’s changes to the food stamp program. They will require “Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents,” or ABAWD’s to obtain at least 20 hours of work or worker training a week to qualify for benefits.

Currently, the state has a waiver from those requirements for those living in 114 Connecticut towns that have an average unemployment rate that is at least 20 percent above the national average. Bridgeport, New Haven and Waterbury are among the towns exempt from the work and job training requirements.

If the farm bill, as written, becomes law, the Connecticut’s waiver and similar ones given to other states would be invalidated as of 2021.

The farm bill also would change the definition of an ABAWD from a person between the ages of 18 and 49 who has no dependents and is not disabled to a person between the ages of 18 and 59 who is childless and is not disabled.

Conaway, however, has rejected a White House idea that SNAP recipients receive food boxes that would take the place of about half of the money they receive on Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards.

He also included in the farm bill a new $7 billion grant program to help states fund training programs for ABAWD’s who are at risk of losing their benefits.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, has blasted the farm bill “as a betrayal of working families and our most vulnerable — imposing onerous requirements on up to 6.5 million Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients.”

“The food stamp program is essential to keep people from going hungry, helping more than 44 million Americans in 2016 alone, including nearly 35,000 families in Connecticut’s Third District,” DeLauro said.

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