House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is reportedly set to unveil a proposal Monday morning that would slash federal food aid for millions of people as part of Republicans’ broader plan to avert a debt ceiling crisis of their own making.
But Democratic lawmakers were quick to reject the idea of food assistance cuts, denouncing the Republican leader’s proposal as immoral and unacceptable.
“My family and I depended on food stamps. So do over 65,000 men, women, and children in the community I serve,” Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.) said in a statement Sunday after Politicoreported that McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) proposal includes an expansion of work requirements for certain Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients and a call to limit states’ ability to waive work mandates—a power that has been used to ensure consistent aid access during times of economic turmoil.
The outlines of McCarthy’s proposal resemble legislation introduced last month by Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), who suggested expanding SNAP work requirements for adults deemed able-bodied and without dependents. Specifically, Johnson’s bill would impose the stringent requirements on such adults between the ages of 18 and 65, up from the current age ceiling of 49.
As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) notes, the existing SNAP work requirements for able-bodied adults limit benefits “to just three months in any 36-month period when they are not employed or participating in a work or training program for at least 20 hours a week.”
Most SNAP recipients already work, and research has shown that work requirements do virtually nothing to boost employment—though they do succeed at adding administrative hurdles that deny people access to benefits.
In a recent analysis, CBPP estimated that Johnson’s bill would put 10 million people at risk of losing benefits. The think tank stressed that around 4 million children live in households that the legislation would impact.
In her statement on Sunday, Lee said Congress “cannot allow Republicans’ threats to crash our economy if we don’t bend to their pro-starvation agenda.”
“Stop playing politics with people’s lives,” Lee added.
Lee’s fellow Pennsylvania Democrat, Sen. John Fetterman, also voiced opposition to the Republican speaker’s planned attack on food aid:
Cut SNAP for families and kids while pushing tax cuts for billionaires?— Senator John Fetterman (@SenFettermanPA) April 17, 2023
Not on my watch. https://t.co/ndwDkiIFLq
McCarthy’s plan will come weeks after millions of people across the U.S. saw their federal food aid cut—in some cases by hundreds of dollars per month—as emergency allotments for the Covid-19 pandemic were terminated, forcing many to turn to food banks for support amid elevated prices.
The Republican leader is expected to lay out his caucus’ proposals in a speech at the New York Stock Exchange on Monday morning.
The GOP plan’s prospects are uncertain given Democratic control of the Senate and the White House’s stated opposition to attaching more punitive work requirements or other attacks on aid programs to an agreement to raise the debt ceiling. The U.S. is expected to default on its debt this summer if Congress doesn’t act.
Senate Republicans have expressed doubts that McCarthy’s food aid proposal would be able to pass while still praising “the intent behind the House GOP efforts to expand work requirements for SNAP,” as Politico reported.
“I mean, Godspeed. Get what you can,” an unnamed Republican Senate aide told Politico. “We’re going to live in reality over here.”
According toPunchbowl, the broader debt ceiling plan that House Republicans are considering would raise the limit until May 2024—setting up another dangerous standoff in the near future—in exchange for “either a cap on non-defense discretionary spending or a cap on overall discretionary spending after reducing it to FY 2022 levels.”
Such caps would require significant cuts to key federal education, healthcare, and housing programs. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development warned last month that the GOP’s proposed spending cuts could affect rental assistance for 640,000 families and make it “impossible to stave off mass evictions.”
Claire Guzdar, a spokesperson for the ProsperUS coalition, said in a statement that “the House Republican majority’s latest proposal is a complete nonstarter.”
“We have already lived through the economic devastation of deep cuts like those proposed here,” said Guzdar. “Enough is enough. Congress must raise the debt limit without conditions or risk economic catastrophe.”
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