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Trump calls on Congress to attach work requirements to food stamps

A sign for food stamp customers is pictured at the State Farmers Market in Raleigh, N.C. (Allen Breed/AP)

President Trump on Thursday expressed support for House Republicans’ plan to tighten food-stamp work requirements, pressing Senate Republicans to adopt the provision even though it would probably doom a major bill’s chances of passing their chamber.

The House work requirement proposal, part of the 2018 farm bill, narrowly passed on strict party lines in June. But the Senate version of the farm bill made only technical tweaks to food stamps, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Negotiators from both chambers are slated to meet in September to try to reconcile differences between their bills, aiming to send identical measures back to their respective chambers for passage. Trump could then sign the bill into law.

Republicans say the work requirements provide a needed incentive for participants to move away from government assistance and into private employment, while Democrats and other critics say it could lead to as many as 1 million people going hungry.

In a tweet, Trump made it clear he wants the final farm bill to include the House’s approach to food stamps. “When the House and Senate meet on the very important Farm Bill — we love our farmers — hopefully they will be able to leave the WORK REQUIREMENTS FOR FOOD STAMPS PROVISION that the House approved. Senate should go to 51 votes!” he wrote.

Including the work requirements provision would probably doom the bill in the Senate. Democrats do not support the proposal, and Senate Republicans do not have the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster without backing from Democrats.

Both farm and anti-hunger groups say there is little possibility the plan could garner the votes needed to pass that chamber. “It will need 60 votes. There is zero chance it will need just 51,” said Ferd Hoefner, a senior adviser at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, who has worked on eight farm bills. “Trump, [House Speaker Paul D.] Ryan and [Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael] Conaway need to decide if they want to help farmers and pass a new bill or keep talking about deep SNAP cuts and wind up with nothing.”

In his tweet, Trump appears to be calling on Republicans to lower the threshold for advancing the bill to 51 votes, a major change in Senate rules that Republicans have given little, if any, indication they’re willing to make.

More than 39.6 million Americans receive an average of $122 per month in SNAP benefits.

House Republicans are pushing a far-reaching plan that would fundamentally change how SNAP works, requiring most adults between ages 18 and 59 to work part time or enroll in 20 hours a week of workforce training to receive assistance. Most adults are required to work under current rules, as well, or take a job if it’s offered to them. But Republicans have long complained that those rules are too lax, particularly for adults with children.

House Republicans have promoted the plan as a means of helping the unemployed get back to work during a period of record economic growth. Ryan (R-Wis.), who has described welfare reform as one of his top priorities, called the proposed work requirements “mild” and “as reasonable and common sense as it gets.”

That argument has fallen flat, however, with Democrats and anti-hunger advocates. A report last week by researchers at Wellesley College and Northwestern University, published by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, concluded that it would be difficult for many low-income adults to find steady work under the new rules, thanks to instability in the low-skill job market.

Critics have warned that, as a result, the requirements would dramatically cut SNAP participation — by as many as 1 million people over 10 years, according to forecasts by the Congressional Budget Office.

The issue will come to a head soon after Congress returns from August recess. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he experts to see a conference report on the farm bill in early September. The current farm bill expires Sept. 30.

The president’s position could complicate the timely passage of this year’s farm bill, which oversees more than $430 billion of food and agriculture programs.

While Trump has not gone so far as to threaten a veto against the bill, he has convened congressional leaders to express his strong support for SNAP changes. And he previously tweeted, upon the passage of the House farm bill, that he was “so happy to see work requirements included.”

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