Watch CBS News

Food stamps already have work requirements. Now, GOP lawmakers want tougher ones.

Millions of Americans facing "hunger cliff"
Millions of Americans are facing "hunger cliff" as food stamp benefit cuts loom 04:42

The food-stamp program already has work requirements for people the U.S. government defines as "able-bodied adults without dependents" — in other words, younger workers who aren't disabled and who don't have kids or other dependents. 

But a group of Republican lawmakers say tougher work requirements are needed to close a loophole, as well as to get more older food-stamp recipients working in exchange for their benefits.

Rep. Dusty Johnson, a Republican from South Dakota, and more than 20 other Republican lawmakers on Tuesday introduced a bill called the America Works Act, which would end a waiver program that allows states to bypass work requirements for some of their residents. Currently, 18 states are using waivers that exempt residents from work requirements, the lawmakers said in a statement.

The bill would also require more older workers to prove they have a job or are in a training program in order to receive food stamps. Currently, able-bodied adults between 18 to 49 and who don't have children are required to work 20 hours a week or enroll in a work training program to receive aid from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the formal name for the food-stamp program.

But the bill would raise that requirement for people up to age 65, which the lawmakers say is in line with Medicare, the health insurance program for Americans aged 65 and older. 

Consumer Price Index shows inflation cooling; Fed to decide on interest rate hike next week 03:32

Pre-pandemic data shows that 1.4 million adults without dependents "reported zero dollars in gross income – meaning they did not work at all," the lawmakers said in the statement. That represents about 3% of the 42.6 million people who received food stamps in December, the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"Work is the best pathway out of poverty," Johnson said in the statement. "Work requirements have proven to be effective, and people who can work should work."

In a tweet, Johnson noted that his family received SNAP benefits when he was a child, adding that he is "a witness of the reward of hard work."

The push to add more work requirements comes at a difficult time for many lower-income households, with 32 states slashing food-stamp benefits this month in what some experts are calling a "hunger cliff." 

The cuts, which translate into an average per-person loss of $82 in monthly SNAP benefits, stand to affect more than 30 million people who receive food stamps in those states and as inflation remains painfully high, with grocery costs more than 10% higher than a year earlier, according to the latest inflation data.

"False assumptions"

SNAP has frequently drawn scrutiny from Republican lawmakers, who in recent years have proposed similar laws to stiffen work requirements for recipients. The Trump administration had also sought to tighten work requirements.

The latest proposal should be rejected, the Center on Budget and Policy Proposals (CBPP) said Wednesday in a report. Most adults who are under 65 and who get SNAP benefits are already working or are temporarily between jobs, the left-leaning think tank noted.

People on food stamps who aren't working are often providing unpaid care to children or older family members, are in school, or are out of work because of health problems, CBPP said. Adding red tape in order to qualify for food aid means that some eligible people are likely to fall off the rolls because of the additional hurdles, according to the group.

"Justifications for work requirements rest on the false assumptions that people who receive benefits do not work and must be compelled to do so," CBPP said. "These assumptions are rooted in stereotypes based on race, gender, disability status and class."

To be sure, the Republican bill is unlikely to make it into law given that the Senate is controlled by Democrats. Yet the effort reflects an ongoing push by GOP lawmakers to trim spending in benefits programs such as food stamps.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.