On June 8, the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee released bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the farm bill. The bill, titled the Agriculture Improvement Act, would reauthorize the farm bill through Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 and extend various federal farm, conservation, nutrition and rural development programs supporting underserved communities across the nation.
The Senate’s legislation takes an important step toward renewing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) by improving program effectiveness and expanding work training pilot programs. SNAP represents a major component of the farm bill and has proven to be one of the nation’s most effective poverty-reduction programs.
SNAP currently serves 42 million residents across the country and operates as an important public assistance program for eligible low-income individuals and families. Ten states delegate SNAP administration to county agencies: California, Colorado, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. Counties in these states contribute significant local funds to the administrative and supplemental costs of operating the program.
The Senate’s 2018 farm bill contains several proposals related to SNAP:
The bill would expand SNAP Employment and Training (SNAP E&T) pilot programs authorized under the 2014 farm bill.
The bill would provide additional funding for and allow additional states to participate in SNAP Employment and Training (E&T) demonstration pilots. This would create more opportunities to gather data on best practices around helping SNAP participants obtain and maintain employment. Specifically, the bill calls for an additional $185 million to conduct employment and training pilot projects that “target individuals 50 years of age or older, formerly incarcerated individuals or individuals in a substance abuse treatment program.”
Additionally, the bill proposes increased collaboration between state SNAP agencies and state and local workforce development boards.
The Senate bill would maintain existing eligibility and work requirements for SNAP recipients, including hourly requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs).
Under current law, adults ages 18 to 49 who are not pregnant, disabled or otherwise exempt are required to work at least a part-time job or agree to take a job if it is offered to them. An additional set of work requirements applies to childless adults ages 18 to 49, also known as able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs), who lose benefits if they are unable to find a job within three months of becoming eligible for SNAP benefits. The Senate legislation would maintain these provisions.
The legislation would direct the agency to improve the electronic benefit transfer (EBT) systems states use to issue benefits.
If enacted, the legislation would allow authorized SNAP vendors to use EBT equipment enabling them to accept SNAP benefits as payment in multiple locations. The legislation would also require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to conduct studies of state EBT systems to improve customer service and data protection.
Other provisions in the bill include initiatives to promote healthy eating habits among seniors and children, as well as targeted improvements for certain populations of SNAP recipients.
The Senate bill is slated for committee markup on June 13. Meanwhile, the House continues its efforts to revise its version of the 2018 farm bill, which failed to pass the House on May 18. NACo will continue to engage with both chambers of Congress to ensure county priorities are represented in the final farm bill.