A closer look at SNAP as Farm Bill shaping continues

Changes to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, are possible under the next U.S. Farm Bill. The current bill expires in less than two months. 

“People don’t get less old or disabled over time. If they need benefits from SNAP, they aren’t going to need less of them,” said Karen Ehrens, a registered dietician from Bismarck.

Changes to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, are possible under the next U.S. Farm Bill. The current bill expires in less than two months. Members of both Congressional houses, including all of North Dakota’s delegation, are on the committee to shape a mutually-approvable bill.

Incumbent Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., have both stated the ideal Farm Bill will keep and further what already works for North Dakota. Both politicians are running for a six-year term in the U.S. Senate.

Approximately 54,000 North Dakotans participated in SNAP in 2016, according to information from the Heitkamp campaign. About 73 percent of participants were families with children.

“If you look at the people who use the SNAP program, it’s children, the disabled and the elderly,” said Ellen Linderman, a farmer from Carrington, North Dakota. “I think there’s less fraud in that program than people assume.”

By the Bills

Preliminary bills passed by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives differed in their recommendations for future participation in SNAP.

The current law, unaffected in the Senate bill, states able-bodied adults between the ages of 18-50 without dependents are subject to time-limited SNAP benefits. Those adults are limited to three months of benefits out of every 36 months. That’s unless they work at least 20 hours per week, participate in a qualified employment and training program or participate in a state’s workfare program.

Under the House bill, the number of people subject to time-limited SNAP benefits is expanded to older adults and adults with children. The amount of benefits available after inability to meet work requirements is reduced to one month.

“The bill seeks opportunities focused on improving recipients’ futures and offering them a springboard out of poverty,” Cramer stated on his House website. “This moves away from unenforceable and ineffective work requirements, and partners with individuals who want to improve their lives, supporting all eligible adults who want to achieve self-reliance for themselves and their families.”

Work Requirements

The current law, unaffected in the Senate bill, has set guidelines for physically and mentally fit individuals between the ages of 15-60 who are participating in SNAP.

Those people must register for work and accept suitable job offers, not quit or reduce hours for jobs over 30 hours per week without “good cause.” They may also participate in a state employment and training program if required by their state. Exemptions are made for people under age 15, older than 60, pregnant, disabled or caretakers.

Under the House bill, the range for physically and mentally fit individuals is between the ages of 18-60. This including those with children older than age six. Those 18-60 individuals must work 20 hours a week (and 25 hours a week beginning in 2026) or register for a mandated state employment and training program if currently not enrolled or unemployed. Exemptions are made for individuals with children between ages 5-12 for whom childcare is not available.

Employment and Training

Under the current law, states are required to operate an employment and training program of their own design for work registrants. The program may be voluntary or mandatory.

Under the House bill, states are required to operate mandatory employments and training programs. They’re also required to provide minimum services in employment and training to all individuals subject to work requirements.

Employment and training programs are updated under the House bill, including subsidized employment and apprenticeship. If a state does not use all the funds allocated to it for a fiscal year, the state must return those funds to the federal government.

The Senate bill makes many changes in this field. For example, it requires state agencies to consult with the state workforce development board or local employers to design the employment and training program. There’s also the allocation of $185 million to conduct addition employment and training pilot programs that target individuals who are 50 and older, formerly incarcerated or in a substance abuse treatment program.

Public Voice

Ehrens and Linderman say they’re supporting the Senate-backed Farm Bill for security reasons.

“I like the Senate bill because it’s more comprehensive,” Linderman said. “In this country, there’s no excuse for people to have food insecurity.”

Both Congressional houses currently have Republican majorities. The House has 236 Republicans, 193 Democrats and six vacancies. The Senate has 51 Republicans, 47 Democrats and two independents.

Midterm elections will be held in less than 90 days. As they approach, look to Daily News Media for updated coverage of North Dakota and Minnesota’s campaigns, candidates and items under consideration.

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