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The House Farm Bill: What’s At Stake for Parents and Children

A few weeks ago, the House Agriculture Committee passed the House farm bill along party lines. Republican leadership plans to schedule a floor vote soon. The House farm bill proposes major changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps millions of families across the country feed their families in times of need. This farm bill is another bad deal for women and families. Here are 10 ways the House farm bill would impact parents and children:

  1. It proposes to restrict categorical eligibility, an option the majority of states use to extend SNAP to working families with incomes just over the income eligibility cut-off, who often have significant expenses like child care and housing. Restricting categorical eligibility would re-impose a “cliff effect,” causing some working women and families to lose access to SNAP, and would increase administrative burdens for many others.
  2. Children who would lose SNAP if the farm bill’s categorical eligibility restriction were enacted would also lose their direct connection to free school meals.
  3. The House farm bill proposes forcing single parents to participate in the federal child support enforcement program. Currently, states can choose whether SNAP recipients must participate in this enforcement program, and only a few states have adopted the option. Moreover, single parents, most of whom are mothers, often have good reasons for deciding not to engage with child support enforcement officials, such as not wanting to jeopardize relationships with the noncustodial parent to pursue enforcement. In addition, some parents, including survivors of domestic violence, may decide that seeking a child support order and payment would put them or their children at risk. Single parents should not have to choose between basic food assistance and, in some cases, their physical safety.
  4. It proposes to eliminate a valuable connection between the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and SNAP. This will increase the paperwork burden for families struggling to make ends meet, increase the paperwork states must process, and force some families to choose between heating their homes and eating. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that this provision alone will cut SNAP benefits by an estimated $5.3 billion over 10 years.
  5. It proposes making existing work requirements even stricter. The majority of adult SNAP recipients who can work, do work. But low-paying jobs are often the only ones available to low-income individuals, and it’s already challenging for many women to meet SNAP’s current 20-hour per week work requirements. Women are overrepresented in the low-wage workforce, and those jobs often come with unpredictable work schedules. Making the current work requirements even stricter, including by increasing the weekly work requirement to 25 hours per week and requiring monthly reporting, is a bad deal for parents and children.
  6. Its proposed stricter work requirements would include parents who don’t have a child under age six. School-aged children are two-thirds of the children receiving SNAP. Parents still need to ensure care for school-aged children after school, during vacations, and when they need medical care. Low-wage jobs with unpredictable schedules, nonstandard hours, and few benefits would make it hard for parents to balance caregiving and SNAP work requirements. Imposing these stricter work requirements on these parents will likely lead to more families with children losing their food assistance, which will negatively impact children’s development and health.
  7. The House farm bill’s stricter work requirements also threaten to take food off the tables of some parents with a disability and their children. Many people with disabilities can work, but some disabilities may prevent parents from meeting the stricter work requirements proposed in the farm bill. Adults receiving disability benefits would likely still be exempt from the stricter work requirements, but those who do not qualify for disability benefits would have to prove that they qualify for the exemption. Experience shows that the exemption process is hard to navigate already, and the increased work requirements are likely to make maneuvering through the complicated bureaucratic process even more difficult. The end result: more parents with disabilities, and their children, may lose SNAP.
  8. It threatens food assistance for those caring for dependents, including children, with serious health conditions. The farm bill’s expansion of work requirements to include parents of children aged 6 and older would mean that parents of children with serious health conditions would be subject to work requirements, unless they met a narrow exemption for those caring for an “incapacitated” person. This strict standard might exclude children with serious and chronic conditions, like asthma or diabetes, and would therefore mean that mothers caring for a child aged 6 or above or other dependent with a serious health condition may not qualify for the exemption and may lose their SNAP benefits.
  9. The House Farm bill also proposes to eliminate an important work requirement exemption for parents or children aged five to 12 who are in college but cannot arrange for child care. The farm bill’s sanctions for failing to meet the work requirements within one month (taking away SNAP for 1 year for the first failure and 3 years for subsequent failures) are harsh penalties for parents in college who struggle to access child care.
  10. Youth aging out of foster care experience high rates of unemployment and poverty. Homeless youth and young adults face similar barriers. Existing SNAP work requirements make it difficult for them to access SNAP benefits, and stricter work requirements will only create more obstacles to receiving food assistance.

At the end of the day—the House farm bill threatens to take food off the tables of millions of parents and their children. The bill comes only months after Congress added $1.9 trillion to the deficit by passing a tax bill that gives massive tax cuts to millionaires, billionaires, and big corporations. Instead of weakening a program that provides vital food assistance to millions of families in need, Congress should combat hunger by protecting and strengthening SNAP.