House Republicans defended their broadening of work requirements for safety net programs in the debt ceiling bill on Wednesday, saying it would help people escape poverty and assist employers looking to hire.
In a call with reporters, the representatives also challenged the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the package, released Tuesday, that showed enrollment in the food stamps program would increase by 78,000 people in an average month when fully implemented, as well as grow spending by $2.1 billion over the decade.
Under the package, able-bodied adults without dependents who are ages 18 through 54 could get food stamps for only three months out of every three years unless they are employed at least 20 hours a week or meet other criteria until 2030. Currently, that mandate applies to those ages 18 through 49.
But veterans, people experiencing homelessness and former foster youth of all ages would be exempt under the debt ceiling bill. The legislation would also tighten the share of unused exemptions states can carry over from year to year.
“What we know unimpeachably from the bulk of the evidence is that work requirements, when properly deployed, absolutely help people escape poverty and grow the economy,” said GOP Rep. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota, who authored a more stringent bill earlier this year to increase work mandates in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, the formal name for food stamps.
Advocates for lower-income Americans, however, say that many people receiving government benefits are already employed. And they point to multiple studies that show work requirements don’t really help additional people find jobs or increase their income, but instead strip them of much-needed aid.
Johnson also argued that the GOP’s insistence on beefing up work requirements is not about slashing government programs.
“Republicans have tried to say all along that our belief in, focus on and commitment to work requirements is not about saving a buck,” he said. “It is about helping Americans escape poverty, and it’s about growing the economy.”
Republican lawmakers also blasted states for using loopholes to expand enrollment to secure more federal funding and cited a recent Axios-Ipsos poll that showed nearly two-thirds of Americans support work requirements for food stamps and Medicaid.
Expanding work requirements
In their debt limit bill passed in late April, House Republicans called for introducing work requirements to Medicaid and for broadening the mandates in food stamps and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programs.
The compromise package would also tighten the current work requirements in the TANF program, primarily by adjusting the work participation rate credits that states can receive for reducing their caseloads.
It would also bar states from counting people who receive less than $35 in monthly assistance from TANF in their work participation rate, which GOP Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said states send to those already employed to help them meet the requirement.
But the deal would not add a work requirement in Medicaid.
House Republicans also took issue with the CBO report, saying that the agency double counted veterans and others who would be newly exempt from the work requirement in the food stamps program. The lawmakers argued that many of those people already qualify and would not become newly eligible.
“They got it wrong,” said Pennsylvania Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, the chair of the House Agriculture Committee, which this year will be negotiating the reauthorization of the farm bill that covers the food stamps program. “It was a factor of double counting these individuals.”
But a back-of-the envelope calculation by Lauren Bauer, a fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, yielded similar results to the CBO analysis.
The number of people who would be newly exempt “more than compensates” for the increase in recipients who would be newly subject to the mandate, she said, noting that the definition of homelessness is broader than some might think because it also encompasses housing instability.
Changes to the work requirement provisions in the TANF program would reduce spending by $5 million over the decade, according to the CBO.