House Republicans pass a farm bill that guts food assistance for working families

Two million people would be in jeopardy of losing their benefits.

U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). CREDIT: Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty Images
U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). CREDIT: Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty Images

The House of Representatives narrowly passed the farm bill Thursday afternoon 213-211, with 20 Republicans joining all Democrats in voting no.

The House version of the farm bill dramatically cuts funding for food stamps, officially known as Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).

More than 1 million low-income households, totaling than 2 million people — particularly low-income working families — are in danger of losing their benefits altogether or have them reduced under the bill.

President Donald Trump tweeted after the vote that he was “so happy” to see work requirements included in the bill. Trump has stated previously he would veto any farm bill that neglected to impose tougher work requirements.

It is unlikely, however, that the work requirements from the House bill will be adopted by the Senate, where top Republicans on the agriculture committee have worked with Democrats to ensure the Senate farm bill avoids stricter work requirements and provisions to restrict eligibility.

The House bill includes new sweeping, aggressive work requirements, despite the fact that current SNAP law already has work requirements in place and the majority of families receiving benefits are employed. Data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation suggests 58 percent of working-age, non-disabled SNAP households are employed while receiving benefits; that figure rises to 62 percent for households with children.

Individuals who are unable to find full or part-time work would be subject to a “lockout” period that cuts off benefits for a full year. If they are unable to meet the required hours under the policy for a second time, they could face a lockout period of three full years.

The bill also curtails a provision called “broad-based categorical eligibility,” which allows states to enroll their residents in SNAP if they can prove they qualify for other income-based public assistance programs. It provides a safety net for families and individuals working low-wage jobs that put them right above the income cutoff for SNAP.

The program is extremely popular, with 42 states having adopted the policy.

Without it, many working families with an income close to SNAP’s cutoff of 130 percent of the federal poverty level (roughly $1,702 a month for a family of three), would lose access to their benefits. Families in this category are earning an income, yet still face significant costs like child care, transportation, or medical expenses, which make it difficult to afford food.

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House Approves Budget Plan that Would Cut Federal Employee Benefits

By Erich Wagner

October 5, 2017

House lawmakers voted 219-206 Thursday to approve a resolution outlining the body’s fiscal 2018 budget priorities, which include a number of controversial cuts to federal employees’ retirement and benefits programs.

The House’s budget resolution (H. Con. Res. 71) asks 11 committees to come up with a total of $1.5 trillion in spending cuts through budget reconciliation, setting the stage for Republicans’ tax reform initiative. Within that, the legislation mandates that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which oversees federal compensation and retirement programs, cut $32 billion over the next 10 years.

The resolution does not specify how the oversight committee should achieve savings, but the Trump administration last spring proposed a number of changes to federal retirement: a 6 percentage point increase in employee contributions to the Federal Employees Retirement System, phased in over six years; the elimination of cost of living adjustments for FERS employees and a 0.5 percent reduction in COLAs for Civil Service Retirement System enrollees; elimination of the FERS supplement for employees who retire before Social Security kicks in at age 62; and basing the value of retirement benefits on the highest five years of employees’ earnings instead of the current highest three years.

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The House budget report also offers two new avenues for cutting federal workers’ compensation. It proposes reducing the rate of return for the Thrift Savings Plan’s G Fund, which is made up of government securities, to make it more indicative of its low “investment risk profile.”

And lawmakers proposed changing how the government calculates its contribution to Federal Employees Health Benefits Program premiums. Instead of basing the maximum calculation on the weighted average of the cost of all plans within FEHBP, the federal contribution would increase at the rate of inflation.

Jessica Klement, legislative director of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, described the potential cuts to federal compensation as “hypocrisy.”

“This sets the stage for the federal community to pay for tax reform,” she said. “You’re paying for middle class tax cuts on the backs of middle class federal employees and retirees. It goes against the fundamental premise of this tax reform package.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., the vice ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, called the budget resolution “ruinous,” and said that while his committee would be responsible for $32 billion in cuts, the cost of the overall budget to federal workers and retirees could reach as high as $163 billion over the next decade.

“Federal employee pay and benefits are not the cause of this country’s deficit and debt,” Connolly said. “The federal workforce has already contributed nearly $200 billion toward reducing the country’s deficits in the form of pay freezes, pay raises insufficient to keep pace with inflation, furloughs and increased retirement contributions. We should honor and revere the service of our federal workforce, not denigrate it with the attacks included in this ugly budget.”

National Treasury Employees Union National President Tony Reardon decried the proposal, which he said would unfairly punish government employees.

“On paper, it may look like a way to save money but in the real world, cutting the paychecks and retirements of federal employees, just to help pay for tax cuts for the wealthy, is a mean-spirited way to build a national budget,” Reardon said. “Since when is it acceptable to attack the very people who are providing hurricane relief, protecting clean air and water, conducting cutting-edge scientific research, enforcing the tax laws, securing the border, maintaining the national parks and guarding our financial system?”

On Thursday, the Senate Budget Committee marked up its own fiscal 2018 budget proposal. Ahead of the meeting, it only provided reconciliation instructions to its Finance and Energy and Natural Resources committees. Once passed by the full Senate, lawmakers will need to iron out the differences between their budgets before committees can begin work to find savings.

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During Visit A Factory Worker Tears Into Paul Ryan

For many Republicans in America’s heartland, the level of frustration with Washington D.C. is at an all time high. The GOP has the White House and both chambers on Capitol Hill, but little is being accomplished. The promises made to get elected going unfulfilled. Many waited eight long years through the previous administration, and their patience is running thin.

On Wednesday at a manufacturing plant in Wisconsin, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) faced this frustration head on.

A worker at the plant said, “I think for eight horrible years I heard, ‘We don’t have control of the House, we don’t have the Senate, we don’t have the presidency.’ OK? And ‘when we get in, we have a plan, and we’re going to change stuff.’ Well, I’ll tell you what, you’re in there now, and all I see is infighting, it is very dysfunctional.”

Ryan had little to say other than to agree that when the GOP health care bill imploded due to lack of Republican consensus, “It was extremely frustrating.” The Speak of the House was left with just this, “I don’t run the Senate. I run the House.”

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