Thompson defends SNAP vote

Cuts, savings, reform, reduction; whatever you call it, it means less people receiving benefits and lower program costs.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 3102, the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013, in a 217-210 vote.

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), should it become law, the bill would result in approximately 14 million less individuals receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in an average month by 2023, resulting in reductions in program spending of approximately $39 billion over a ten year period. The reductions average to approximately $4 billion per-year, although figures for individual years vary between approximately $1.3 billion in 2014 and $5.3 billion in 2015.

The House largely voted along party lines on the issue; only 15 Republicans voted against the measure and no Democrats voted for it. Six U.S. representatives, one Republican and five Democrats, did not vote on the bill.

The measure is unlikely to pass given opposition in the U.S. Senate and the Obama administration.

“The House of Representatives’ plan to institute further draconian cuts to the SNAP program is bad for the economy, Pennsylvania’s children, families and seniors,” U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) said in a Friday release. “Over the last few years the Senate has pushed for substantial reforms to the SNAP program to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Despite these steps, the House is intent on further eroding a program that is vital to thousands of Pennsylvania children and seniors.”

A Sept. 18 statement of policy from the administration’s Office of Management and Budget expressed strong opposition to the bill and stated, “If the President were presented with H.R. 3102, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”

U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, who voted for the measure, said the bill’s passage provides a starting point for compromise with the Senate.

“The House passes this version. The Senate passes its version and then it goes to conference committee,” Thomspon (R-5) said on Monday. “It’s trying to facilitate a final bill agreeable to both the House and Senate. There will be Democrats and Republicans from both the House and the Senate.”

In a Sept. 19 press release, Thompson called H.R. 3102, “far from perfect”.

A follow-up e-mail after interviewing Thompson on the bill expressed a preference for the initial bill which came out of the House Agriculture Committee, H.R. 1947, which would have reduced SNAP spending by approximately $20.5 billion over ten years. According to the e-mail, Thompson believes the initial bill represented a more realistic approach to finding agreement with the Senate.

Thompson, through his seat on the House Agriculture Committee, could sit on such a committee, though committee member selection has not begun yet.

“The Senate recognizes that there is fraud and abuse,” Thompson said. “That’s recognized in the House bill. I’m looking forward to getting a final form lined up.”

The bill accomplishes the reductions mainly through reforms to provisions outlining who qualifies for SNAP, rather than through reductions of benefits.

“The house version recognizes fraud and abuse and it puts some other things in place,” Thompson said. “It eliminates categorical eligibility. (It) added a work requirement… just for able-bodied individuals.”

Categorical eligibility is the practice of automatically qualifying individuals and households to receive SNAP benefits based on receipt of benefits from other low-income assistance programs without submission of an application for benefits.

Through categorical eligibility provisions, those receiving assistance through programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) can automatically qualify for SNAP benefits without a separate asset test for the program.

The CBO estimates approximately 1.8 million people would lose eligibility for SNAP benefits under the provision in 2014. The reduction in beneficiaries is projected to result in a cost reduction for the program of $535 million in 2014 and reductions in cost of more than $1 billion each year from 2015 through 2023.

The bill would also rescind a waiver of a work requirement provision for eligible, able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDS) to receive SNAP benefits for more than three months in a three year period.

Under welfare reform passed during the Clinton administration, ABAWDS were prohibited from receiving SNAP benefits for more than three month of any 36 month period without working at least 20 hours per-week or participating in some sort of employment training program.

“That first surfaced in 1996 under welfare reform under former President Clinton,” Thompson noted. “I think that’s an important component.”

A nationwide waiver of this requirement was provided in 2009 to extend until Sept. 2010.

Additionally, states can be extended a state-wide waiver if the state’s unemployment rate exceeds 10 percent, or in places where no jobs are available. This has resulted in the extension of state-wide waivers to nearly all U.S. states and territories that provide SNAP from 2011 through 2013.

Under the bill, the requirement would be re-imposed regardless of the employment situation in a given area.

The bill does provide funding for states to provide a SNAP employment and training program.

States are permitted to exempt up to 15 percent of all ABAWDS from the requirement.

Individuals are exempt from the requirement if they are under 18 or 50 years of age or older, responsible for the care of a child or incapacitated household member, medically certified as physically or mentally unfit for employment, pregnant, or already exempt from the work requirements of the Food Stamp Act.

“If you’re an able-bodied mom and you’ve got kids at home, that’s one thing,” Thompson said. “But if you’re able-bodied and could be getting training, you should.”

The CBO estimates approximately 1 million beneficiaries would lose SNAP benefits as a result of the ABAWDS requirements in 2014. This is projected to result in approximately $600 million in reduced costs in 2014, with cost reduction between $1.4 and $3.3 billion each year between 2015 and 2023.

Another provision which is estimated to result in significant cost reductions for the program is implementation of a minimum threshold of benefits provided through the Low-Income Household Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) needed to trigger an increase to SNAP benefits.

SNAP applicants and beneficiaries may deduct out-of-pocket expenses for certain utility services from total income for the purposes of meeting income guidelines for SNAP. The deduction is calculated as a standard amount, known as the SNAP Standard Utility Allowance (SUA).

Under current provisions, households receiving LIHEAP payments also qualify for the SNAP SUA, resulting in an increase in SNAP benefits. There is no current minimum amount of LIHEAP payment to trigger allowance of taking the SUA when calculating income.

The new provision would require a minimum LIHEAP payment of $20 before individuals could take the SUA when calculating income for the purposes of the SNAP program.

The CBO estimates this provision would reduce benefits for approximately 850,000 household each year by approximately $90 per-month.

The bill also puts into place a number of provisions to help combat fraud in the SNAP program, including a provision intended to crack down on recipients who have received large gambling winnings, such as lottery winners.

The provisions come on the heels of the expiration of an increase in SNAP benefits provided through stimulus spending. The expiration is projected to result in a reduction of benefits of approximately 5.4 percent program-wide. The impact of this reduction varies by size of household, a single individual is projected to see a reduction in maximum benefits of $11 to a total of $189 per-month while a family of four is expected to see benefits drop by $36 to $632 per-month.

The bill leaves these reductions in place.

“It’s just codifying the end of the stimulus,” Thompson said. “It’s the way it was designed by the Democrats. It was designed to end.”

Thompson also responded to conflicting claims as to the impact of the bill and the lumping together of reduction through the measure and those through the end of the stimulus.

“The CBO is reporting cuts beyond the stimulus ending and that’s mostly from the end of categorical eligibility,” Thompson said. “Some folks who, based on income, shouldn’t be on the program, will now have to fill out an application and that’ll result in savings from them being out of the program. The reductions of fraud should also account for some savings. I’m pretty pleased with the reforms in this bill.”

The Senate passed a bill including both food stamp and farm programs in June. In a move to appease more conservative members demand for greater food stamps program cuts, which they believed would be easier to pass unattached to the farm provisions,the House split provision regarding the two sets of programs after failing to pass them in a single bill in June. A bill regarding farm programs was passed in the House in July. Traditionally, the two sets of programs have been covered in a single bill.

Provision in the previous bill governing both sets of programs will begin expiring in October.