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Lawmakers May Add New Work Requirements for Food Assistance

House measure means millions could lose nutrition benefit

En español | Millions of Americans ages 50 to 59 who rely on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to help put food on their tables would be added to those who have to either work or get job training to avoid losing the benefit, under a Republican-drafted bill the House Agriculture Committee sent to the floor Wednesday by a party-line vote.

SNAP, also known as food stamps, is the nation’s largest federal domestic assistance program. It helps provide food for 43 million Americans, including 10 million over the age of 50. The SNAP program is included in the farm bill, which the committee sent to the full House with 26 Republicans voting yes and 20 Democrats voting no.

Currently, SNAP recipients who have to work to get benefits include childless adults between the ages of 18 and 49 who don’t have disabilities. The legislation would expand the work requirement to include adults up to age 59 and individuals who care for children older than 6. The bill also would set tighter time frames for SNAP recipients to find work and stiffen the penalties if they don’t.

SNAP recipients covered under the work requirement would have to document, each month, that they are working or getting job training for 20 hours a week. The first time an individual doesn’t comply with that requirement would trigger a loss of benefits for a year. Failing to comply again would result in being locked out of SNAP for three years.

“Denying an individual’s access to SNAP benefits for up to three years for not being able to comply with tougher work requirements could increase food insecurity and likely have negative consequences on health,” AARP Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Joyce A. Rogers said in a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the Agriculture Committee. 

She noted a recent study showing “how healthcare and food insecurity causes are inextricably linked, finding the risk for hospital admissions for low blood sugar spike 27 percent in the last week of the month as compared to the first week of the month when food and SNAP budgets of low-income populations have often been exhausted.”

AARP has pointed out to lawmakers that forcing older adults to find consistent work in order to maintain their benefits is particularly difficult, given that it typically takes individuals over 50 longer to find work than younger Americans. According to AARP, in 2016, 8.7 million SNAP households included at least one adult over age 50.

This is not the first work requirement being imposed on low-income individuals this year. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has begun granting waivers to states that want to require certain Medicaid beneficiaries to work or lose their benefits.

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