Senate Agriculture Committee releases Farm Bill draft

By Kermit Kaleba, June 08, 2018

Proposed Bill Rejects Expanded Work Requirements, Provides New Pilot Grant Funding

The Senate Agriculture Committee today released a discussion draft of their Farm Bill reauthorization legislation. Unlike the highly partisan bill introduced earlier this year by the House Agriculture Committee – and voted down by the full House in May – the “Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018” rejects efforts to expand ineffective work requirements for individuals receiving benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and provides new funding to support innovative state efforts to expand training for SNAP recipients.

As currently drafted, the Senate bill largely maintains existing eligibility and work registration requirements for SNAP recipients, including specific hourly requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents (commonly referred to as ABAWDs). This is in sharp contrast with the House bill, which called for expanding work requirements to a significantly broader population of SNAP recipients – a proposal the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated would result in as many as 1.2 million individuals losing access to SNAP benefits on a monthly basis by 2028.

The bill would extend current funding authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill for ten state pilot projects testing innovative strategies for connecting SNAP recipients to employment. The current grants were awarded by the Department of Agriculture in 2015 and funding was set to expire in September of this year, so the extension will give these states additional time to continue services for program participants.

The Senate bill would also authorize $92.5 million for each of Fiscal Years 2019 and 2020 for new rounds of SNAP pilots (for a total of $185 million), which would largely be subject to the same requirements as the original pilot grants, though the bill signals preference for programs that are voluntary for SNAP work registrants, as opposed to so-called “mandatory” programs. This is an important distinction because many states and other stakeholders have found that voluntary programs have better outcomes than mandatory programs that require participation as a condition of maintaining SNAP eligibility. The bill would encourage the Department of Agriculture to focus new pilot funding towards programs that are serving individuals over the age of 50, formerly incarcerated individuals, individuals participating in substance abuse treatment, homeless individuals, persons with disabilities, and other individuals with substantial barriers to employment.

The bill would establish a new definition of “workforce partnerships” as a type of eligible training program that can help SNAP recipients meet work requirements. These new partnerships could be by employers, employer associations, or non-profit organizations, and would be subject to relatively limited reporting requirements compared to other types of programs. However, as currently drafted these programs would not be eligible to receive SNAP E&T funds, which may limit takeup rates.

While the proposed legislation does not adopt all of National Skills Coalition’s reauthorization recommendations – particularly our proposals to eliminate separate work participation requirements for ABAWDs and expand access to federal reimbursements for certain training expenses for SNAP recipients – National Skills Coalition believes the current Senate draft is significantly better than the House version and represents a reasonable step forward for SNAP E&T.

The Committee is scheduled to mark up the draft bill on Wednesday, June 13th, with possible action by the full Senate later this month, though what comes next is unclear. The House bill failed last month in part because of disputes between House Republicans on how to proceed on unrelated immigration legislation, and House Agriculture Committee Chair Mike Conaway (R-TX) has been pushing for another vote on his bill once that matter is resolved. If the House does pass their version, it would require the two chambers to resolve the differences between the two bills, which are currently far apart on a range of issues. NSC will continue to monitor developments with this process and provide updates to the field as new information becomes available.