Debt deal imposes new work demands on food aid and it frustrates many Democrats

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats are deeply in conflict over the food aid demands President Joe Biden negotiated as part of the debt ceiling deal, fearing damage has been done to backstop programs that will be difficult to unravel in years to come as Republicans demand more cuts.

Negotiating over tougher work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, has become the focus of the White House and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Until the END. Negotiators on both sides have made it clear, publicly and privately, that this is the biggest area of ​​contention and has nearly led to the breakdown of talks on several occasions.

In the end, Democrats cautiously agreed to new requirements for some able-bodied recipients in exchange for food aid. Republicans agreed to scrap some work requirements for veterans, homeless people and others.

The result of the tense back and forth was a deal that played both ways, but one that many Democrats agonized over as they weighed whether to vote for the package Biden signed on Saturday. Many have struggled to cut off access to food for marginalized communities with an outcome that saved the United States from defaulting on its debt.

“So that this country doesn’t default on its bills, we then turned around and made sure our most vulnerable communities defaulted,” said Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo. Years before arriving in Congress, Bush was living in a car with her then-husband and two young children after the family was evicted from their rental home.

The federal assistance program provides monthly funds — sometimes as little as $6 a day — to help low-income individuals and families buy groceries. It is the country’s largest program focused on fighting hunger, with 41 million people using the benefits last year to buy food, according to the ministry’s Food and Nutrition Service. of Agriculture, which administers the program.

By 2025, new requirements will apply to able-bodied adults aged 49 to 54 with no dependents, an increase of five years. These individuals will need to work or attend training programs for at least 80 hours per month if they wish to receive more than three months of SNAP benefits over a three-year period.

Republicans have been trying for decades to expand the work requirements for these government assistance programs, arguing that they lead to more people returning to the workforce, despite several studies that have found that they have little impact on employment.

“We are going to make these programs a life jacket, not a way of life. A helping hand, not a handout and that has always been the American way,” Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, vice chairman of the House Republican conference, told reporters.

The White House countered that Republican proposal by requiring GOP lawmakers to waive work requirements for new groups — veterans, those homeless or facing housing instability, and young people aging outside of family d reception – to balance the number of people who would now face these new restrictions.

The end result could be more people receiving SNAP benefits overall. A nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimate released Tuesday said changes to the debt ceiling package would add nearly 80,000 people to SNAP rolls in an average month.

But the compromise of seemingly helping some groups while hurting others has always left the Democratic Party’s left flank — the lawmakers who backed Biden and helped push his agenda through the first two years of his term — frustrated with the result. This was especially the case as advocates, including the nonpartisan National Alliance to End Homelessness, warned of a disturbing trend across the country of an increase in the number of older adults becoming homeless, some for the first time.

“What we shouldn’t be playing is the Olympics of oppression,” Bush said. “Like which one is injured today?” Who will get to that finish line to hurt themselves today? This is not where we should be as a society.

Bush, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, voted “no” to the debt limitation deal Wednesday night after spending days hearing from advocacy groups and voters on the issue.

“I think it’s important that (Biden) understands that it’s good for us to have a strong vote, without a vote, because it’s not a deal he would have made if we hadn’t been. held hostage,” Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, chair of the Progressive Caucus, told The Associated Press last week.

They weren’t alone. Several dozen House Democrats and a handful in the Senate voted against the compromise, arguing that the bill authorized Republican hostage-taking and could open the door to future cuts to these government programs in the coming years. month.

“I did not agree to these SNAP restrictions, and I will not give Republicans an opportunity to try to take food from more food-insecure Americans during Farm Bill negotiations later this year. year,” said Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa. A declaration.

The White House and Democrats who ended up backing the brokered deal said they believe the issue of work demands and risks posed by Republicans has been addressed.

“The most important thing to me is the fact that this closes the door to this debate,” said Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, who chairs the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee and is a long time champion and advocate for CPAWS. program. “We’re not going to do it again in the Farm Bill. It’s not something that’s going to be renegotiated. It’s done.”

But advocates warn that could change as the debt limit bill was the most significant change to working rules for food aid and other government assistance programs since they were put in place during the overhaul of social assistance in 1996.

Some of the more conservative Republicans in Congress – part of the right flank that McCarthy had to pacify to become president – have criticized the plan as “weak” and are eager to go even further to crack down on these programs.

“In this bill, we have temporary work requirements, but we’ve added new permanent exceptions,” said Texas Rep. Keith Self, a member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus who overwhelmingly rejected the bill. . “That, ladies and gentlemen, is a sleight of hand.”


Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

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