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Entitlement reform expected to be key focus for Congress in 2018

As Congress finalizes work on a bill to overhaul the tax code, top Republican lawmakers and the Administration have already signaled plans to push for reforms to entitlement and safety-net programs in early 2018 to trim government spending. Programs expected to be targeted for cuts include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides food stamps to low-income families, and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which provides cash assistance to needy families with children.

Both the SNAP and TANF programs have been longtime legislative priorities for NACo. Although both programs typically operate as federal-state partnerships, there are ten states that share program administration with county agencies. Because their resources can be quickly and flexibly administered by county and state agencies, SNAP and TANF are considered some of the most effective federal poverty-relief programs for low-income individuals and families. SNAP, for example, is structured so it can quickly reach a family in need after a natural disaster or an economic downturn. Meanwhile, there is considerable flexibility in how states use TANF funds, which can be used for a range of social safety net programs, such as child care and job training.

In addition to SNAP and TANF, Congressional leaders are reportedly weighing reforms to the Medicaid program. Proposals could include new work requirements for program enrollees and the use of block grants instead of a mandatory spending structure. NACo has opposed the use of a block grant funding structure for Medicaid, which would shift federal and state Medicaid costs to counties and could harm counties’ ability to provide health services to residents. Social Security and Medicare could also be targeted for budget cuts.

As of yet, Congress has not released any concrete legislative proposals to alter entitlement and safety- net programs. For certain programs, such as SNAP, legislative changes could be included as part of next year’s reauthorization of the Farm Bill, which encompasses nutrition and agriculture programs.

Enacting major reforms to other social safety net programs could, however, prove complicated, especially in an election year. In a nearly evenly-divided U.S. Senate, it may be difficult to pass reforms to entitlement programs that cannot be considered under reconciliation instructions, which allow certain budget-related bills to pass with a simple majority of votes.

As consideration of these vital poverty-relief programs heats up, NACo will continue to engage with federal lawmakers to ensure that county priorities are represented in any legislative proposals.

For more NACo resources, please see the following links:

Policy Brief: Reauthorize the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Block Grant

Policy Brief: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Reauthorization and Appropriations

Serving the Underserved: Counties Addressing Poverty

About Valerie Brankovic (Full Bio)

Legislative Assistant

Valerie joined NACo in 2017 and serves as a Legislative Assistant. She assists with legislative research, writing and federal advocacy on issues including health, human services, telecommunications, and justice and public safety. Prior to joining NACo, she interned with Congresswoman Lois Frankel’s office, as well as the U.S.