McCarthy brings food stamp access into debt limit debate : NPR

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A customer shops at a grocery store on July 15, 2022 in Houston, Texas.

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A customer shops at a grocery store on July 15, 2022 in Houston, Texas.

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is leading changes to the federal food stamp program that increase the number of people who must prove they are working to be eligible to receive grocery assistance.

The proposal is part of a larger legislative framework to raise the nation’s debt ceiling for one year, while reducing federal spending.

Currently, most people between the ages of 18 and 50 who rely on food stamps are subject to work reporting requirements. McCarthy is looking to raise that age range to 56. Advocates worry that the change, if passed, could mean people end up out of the program.

“It’s pretty predictable that this will lead to more food hardship,” said Ellen Vollinger, SNAP director for the Center for Food Research and Action. “It does nothing to improve people’s employability. … It’s just going to take food away from people who can’t meet the documented requirements.”

More than 9.5 million adults age 50 and older rely on food stamps, according to the 2022 AARP Research Survey.

The proposed change expands the group of people subject to the requirements

In order to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, there are work requirements for people ages 18 to 49 who do not have dependents and are considered “able-bodied.”

The program limits these adults to three months of SNAP benefits during any 36-month period when they cannot demonstrate that they are employed or in a work or training program for at least 20 hours per week.

McCarthy’s proposal expands the number of people subject to this rule.

“This affects both those unemployed people and those who are not employed. Because often for people to be able to document the sufficient hours of work, this means that they must have a job of several hours,” he said Vollinger. “And for some of the lower-wage jobs, or the second jobs that people get, their work schedules can be quite unpredictable. And sometimes they’re missing work hours as they businesses downsize.”

Democrats are not on board

While House Agriculture Committee Chairman GT Thompson, R-Pa., called the McCarthy proposal “sensible,” the panel’s ranking member David Scott, D-Ga., called it “non-starter” and “ungoly.”

If House Republicans pass McCarthy’s plan, it faces an uphill battle in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The Democrats said they are not ready to pass any bill that ties the debt limit to spending cuts. And they are particularly critical of efforts to require work requirements for those on assistance programs.

“Unfortunately, some Republicans want to take food out of the mouths of vulnerable children and families to pay for irresponsible tax cuts for the wealthiest among us,” said Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the House Agriculture Committee. Senate. “This should be an affront to all Americans. Our economy and the full faith and credit of the United States are not a bargaining chip.”

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