USDA releases broad farm bill reauthorization principles; touts work for SNAP recipients

By Kermit Kaleba, January 24, 2018

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue today released high-level principles for reauthorization of the federal Farm Bill, laying out the Trump administration’s priorities as Congress prepares to consider the first comprehensive update to the law since 2014. While not providing detailed recommendations, the principles document do signal that the administration is seeking changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that would encourage stronger work participation from SNAP recipients.

Specifically, the document calls for the upcoming Farm Bill to “[s]upport work as the pathway to self-sufficiency, well-being, and economic mobility for individuals and families receiving supplemental nutrition assistance,” and to “[e]ncourage state and local innovations in training, case management, and program design that promote self-sufficiency and achieve long-term, stability in employment.” It is unclear whether the agency intends to provide further details on what they are seeking in the Farm Bill, particularly with respect to changes to potential work requirements for SNAP recipients; the Trump administration recently announced controversial guidelines authorizing states to request work requirements for certain Medicaid recipients.

It is also unclear if the principles represent a significant change in direction from proposals outlined in the President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 budget, which including cuts of roughly $200 million over ten years to the overall SNAP program, as well as severe restrictions in benefit eligibility. The FY 2019 budget is expected to be released on February 12th, and may provide further guidance on the administration’s priorities.

The House and Senate Agriculture committees are expected to begin working on reauthorizing legislation as early as next month. The House nutrition subcommittee held four hearings on SNAP last year in preparation for the reauthorization process, including a July hearing on expanding career pathways for SNAP recipients, and has released a publication outlining some of the committee’s priorities, which include “creating a ladder of opportunity that rewards employment.” The Senate Agriculture Committee does not appear to be on the same timeline, but committee staff have indicated an intent to develop their own separate reauthorization bill later this year.

National Skills Coalition was actively engaged in the reauthorization of the 2014 Farm Bill, particularly in securing key improvements in the SNAP Employment and Training (E&T) program, including restoring funding for state grants to support administration of E&T programs, establishing a $200 million grant program to support innovative state pilot projects, and creating new performance reporting metrics to help states track employment and earnings outcomes for program participants.

NSC has worked with state and local leaders as part of our new “Welfare to Careers” National Advisory Panel to release new reauthorization recommendations for SNAP E&T, including rejecting stricter work requirements for SNAP recipients; expanding funding for innovative job training and education strategies; and strengthening alignment with other federal workforce and education programs to ensure that SNAP E&T participants have meaningful access to high-quality skills-based training that leads to family-supporting careers. We look forward to working with policymakers to advance these goals in 2018.