WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congress looks set to pass a compromise version of the Farm Bill, which would reauthorize billions in government funds for nutrition assistance and agricultural support, but strike a plan to expand work and job-training requirements for food assistance programs.
A final version of the bill looks set to be approved during the current lame duck session of the 115th Congress.
The Senate and House of Representatives have both passed drafts of the bill, but negotiations on a final compromise version have stalled in recent months.
In the House, H.R. 2 passed in June with narrow, Republican-only support. The House version included provisions that would increase work and training requirements for access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps.
The proposed changes to SNAP, which had the support of House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump, would have required able-bodied beneficiaries between the ages of 18 and 59 to either hold a job or participate in a job training program for 20 hours each week to remain eligible for the program. Similar requirements apply now only to 18-49 year-olds.
Adults with disabilities or dependents under six years old would be exempt from this requirement.
In April, representatives from some Catholic groups wrote a joint letter to the House Agriculture Committee about the bill. The letter welcomed efforts to improve state workforce training programs, but cautioned that the bill did not appear to offer sufficient investment to fund job training programs.
The letter, signed by representatives from the U.S. bishops’ conference, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Rural Life, and the National Council of the U.S. Society of St. Vincent de Paul, also warned that members of rural communities could find it especially difficult to access training, which is often only available some distance away.
Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry told CNA Nov. 30 that as a Catholic legislator, he was comfortable supporting reasonable work and job-training requirements for SNAP beneficiaries.
“The decayed theology of the last 40 years has left little room for a reasoned approach to charity. Access to meaningful work is dignity. Work gives a person well-being, support, and societal participation. Those who suffer from severe incapacity should not be required, but a holistic approach to charity should integrate work when possible,” Fortenberry said.
“The Farm Bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation for America. It provides risk stabilization for farmers and ranchers and protects those who have food insecurity. America enjoys some of the lowest food prices in the world. We pay less for our groceries then anyone else in the world. And this is the result of a smart legislative process that creates an abundance of food supply that actually helps feed the world’s poor as well,” he added.
“I am hopeful that we can quickly reach bipartisan consensus.”
SNAP benefits assist more than 38 million Americans each month to buy food in grocery stores. The proposed employment and job-training requirements were estimated to affect as many as 1.2 million recipients. Savings incurred by the changes would have been reinvested into job training programs and better administration.
The Senate version of the bill did not include the new training requirements, but contained some additional anti-fraud measures, and was able to pass with bipartisan support.
Congressional Republicans are now indicating that a final compromise bill along the lines of the Senate version can pass before the new Congress, with a Democratic majority in the House, is gaveled into session January 3.
Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts R-KAN said Thursday that the final version of the legislation will not include the tougher work rules contained in the House bill.
“We took a more comprehensive approach to provide program integrity, as opposed to extending age limits to moms that have kids,” Roberts told Huffington Post.