The U.S. House of Representatives narrowly voted to pass a bill on Thursday that will extend authorization of the food stamp program three years, tighten eligibility requirements and modify the way states determine who is eligible.
The Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act passed in a 217-210 vote almost strictly along party lines.
U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, was among those who voted for the bill’s passage. Shuster could not be reached for comment.
In a statement released Friday, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., vowed to fight against the House’s new plan and detailed the impact that this new round of cuts will have on Pennsylvania children, families and seniors.
“The House of Representatives’ plan to institute further draconian cuts to the SNAP program is bad for the economy, Pennsylvania’s children, families and seniors,” Casey said. “Over the last few years the Senate has pushed for substantial reforms to the SNAP program to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Despite these steps, the House is intent on further eroding a program that is vital to thousands of Pennsylvania children and seniors.”
As of Friday afternoon, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., did not have a statement prepared regarding the passage of the bill.
State Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-South Union Township, said he felt the bill targets a class of Americans who have no other options.
“I would like to see abuses eliminated, but I don’t want to see any kids go hungry,” said Mahoney.
The bill cuts close to $4 billion a year for the next 10 years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the Food Stamp Program, which is intended to provide benefits to low income households. As of 2012, 48 million Americans participated in SNAP, with benefits averaging $133 per month, according to the Congressional Budget Office. One of every seven American households uses the program.
Cost-cutting provisions in the bill included limiting categorical eligibility to only those households receiving cash assistance from other low-income programs, closing a “loophole” related to Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) payments that increases SNAP benefits,
eliminating state performance bonuses, preventing the U.S. Department of Agriculture and states from advertising or promoting SNAP, and improving the quality of SNAP-approved stores.
Additionally, House Republicans said the bill aimed to crack down on waste, fraud and abuse by ending SNAP benefits for lottery winners and traditional college students, demanding outcomes from the SNAP Employment and Training program, and increasing oversight of SNAP programs for the homeless, elderly, and disabled.
The bill also included amendments added during floor consideration, directed at encouraging more participants to work. The bill will allow states to conduct pilot projects that adopt Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)-type work requirements for able-bodied adults with children, with the exception of those with a federally qualified disability, and certain people with with sole responsibility for childcare. Republicans also amended the bill to give states the ability to sanction those who refuse to participate in 20 hours per week of work activities.
Another provision in the bill will give states the ability to conduct drug testing on SNAP applicants as a condition for receiving benefits. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of 2013, at least 29 states have introduced legislative proposals requiring drug testing or screening for public assistance applicants or recipients.
Florida passed a law in 2011 requiring all applicants for TANF benefits to be tested. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit to stop the bill from being implemented, and in February, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling to end the program.
Florida’s law, which is mirrored in many ways by the proposed legislation in other states including Pennsylvania, provided that applicants would be reimbursed for the cost of the drug test if it came back negative. Applicants who tested positive were rendered ineligible for benefits for one year, but a parent’s positive test result did not affect the child’s eligibility for benefits. However, any benefits received were to be disbursed through a protective payee who would also have to pass a drug test.
The ACLU noted that in the four months that Florida’s law was in place, the state drug-tested 4,086 TANF applicants and of those, 108 tested positive. Florida spent $118,140 reimbursing the the number of 3,938 applicants who tested negative for drugs, the ACLU said, “far more than any money saved by the program, at a net cost to the state of over $45,000.”
Feeding America, a nationwide domestic hunger-relief charity, points out that for many families, SNAP benefits do not last the entire month. $133 per month averages out to less than $1.50 per meal, which Feeding America says is “hardly enough for an adequate nutritious diet.” They project that number to go down to $1.40 per meal following the cut.