The House is likely to vote as soon as next week on the Farm Bill, legislation that includes the reauthorization of SNAP/food stamps. Despite historically being a bipartisan bill, the version put forth by the House GOP leaders this year includes sweeping, even stricter work requirements for recipients than those that are already in place. For many, these requirements would – in reality – serve as time limits, as they would be kicked off SNAP for failing to be able to meet the new demands. While conservatives tout the changes in this proposal as a way to get workers back into jobs and off government coffers, millions of children will be the ones who would suffer. Here’s how:
First, the stricter work requirements would end SNAP benefits for about 1.2 million adults. More than 60 percent of these adults are in households with children. Another 400,000 households – almost all of them working families with children – would lose SNAP benefits due to another provision that would deny families SNAP when they earn slightly more than the federal eligibility cutoff of 130 percent of the federal poverty level. Other parents could lose benefits because of the onerous qualification, reporting, and tracking requirements the bill would put into place, whereby they would have to submit documentation of their compliance every month. All told, more than 2 million individuals would have their SNAP benefits cut off or reduced.
When parents lose SNAP benefits, there’s less money for food for everyone in the family. Fifty-eight percent of all SNAP households with children are headed by a single adult, so the loss of benefits for that one-earner household could cause the entire family to face hardships.
In addition, the bill will also result in roughly 265,000 children in low-income families losing access to free meals at schools. Children need healthy meals during the day to be able to focus, learn, and grow. Research shows that children experiencing hunger have more behavioral, emotional, mental health, and academic problems.
By changing the current work requirement for parents to exempt only parents with a child under the age of six, the bill would put a heavy burden on parents of children older than six – and in many cases on the children themselves. Low-wage parents already struggle with finding affordable and quality child care, especially with the scheduling challenges that come along with most low-wage work. Adding strict work requirements on parents of school-age children will inevitably mean that parents will have less time with their children, struggle to find adequate child care, and/or lose SNAP benefits. Either way, the children will suffer.
The bill would also require single parents to participate in the federal child support enforcement program in order to receive SNAP. But parents who don’t engage with the child support agency often have good reason for not doing so. For example, some survivors of domestic violence choose not to seek child support because they believe it would put them or their children in danger.
We’ve known for years that receipt of SNAP reduces food insecurity, hunger, and poverty in children, both immediately and later in life. Multiple studies have shown that SNAP helps improve the health of children, beginning during pregnancy and lasting throughout childhood. Children who receive SNAP are significantly less likely to be at risk of developmental delays, do better in school and show a marked increase in economic self-sufficiency in their adult years. Taking SNAP away from parents will inevitably hurt children, which will in turn hurt our country as a whole.
For more information, see this piece from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Coalition on Human Needs' April 23 Human Needs Report and Protecting Basic Needs resources page. To see the percentage of SNAP households with children in your state, see this tool from the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC). For ways you can take action and tell your Representative to protect SNAP for hungry families, click here.