'People are really stressed out': SNAP recipients to be affected by debt ceiling deal


It’s what Rodney Dawkins thinks of the cuts to federal safety net programs included in the debt-ceiling bill, which is on its way to President Joe Biden’s desk.

The deal, negotiated between Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, will expand work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by increasing the age limit on able-bodied adults without dependents from 49 to 54.

“I feel this is really a big blow to the American people, especially if they have families,” said Dawkins, a SNAP recipient from Skokie, Illinois.

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Because of SNAP, Dawkins can afford more nutritious foods, including fresh produce, eggs and other forms of protein – all items he otherwise might not have access to without the federal assistance, a safety net some are at risk of losing. 

The changes to the program could potentially affect 275,000 low-income Americans, according to Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM, an audit, tax, and consulting firm focused on the middle market in the United States and Canada.

While Dawkins, 57, wouldn’t personally be at risk, he’s concerned for those who are.

“Food is really, really, really expensive,” Dawkins added. “People are really stressed out and they’re trying to feed their families by any means necessary. People shouldn’t have to do that. We are the richest country in the world. This is inhumane.”

Government to spend more on food stamps despite cuts to welfare

House Republicans have been pushing for expanded work requirements for SNAP and other federal assistance programs. However, some hardline conservatives have argued that requirements that made it into the final agreement didn’t go far enough.

McCarthy’s original plan would have raised the age limit from 49 to 56, which could have affected nearly 1 million Americans ages 50 to 55, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated at the time.

Instead, Biden and McCarthy settled on 54 years-old and in exchange for increased age limit for work requirements, the deal also included new program exemptions. People experiencing homelessness, veterans and people ages 18 to 24 who were in foster care when they turned 18 would not be subject to work rules for food assistance.

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With the added exemptions, the White House estimates the number of people newly protected would be about the same as those newly subjected to work requirements.

And despite Republicans intention to cut government spending on food stamps by expanding work requirements, the government will actually spend more, not less, on the program, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The CBO said the changes to SNAP would increase federal spending by about $2.1 billion and estimated approximately 78,000 more people would receive food assistance in an average month than currently projected.

However, the CBO also said that changes to Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, the cash assistance program, under the deal would save the government $5 million.

‘A good deal’ for veterans dependent on SNAP

While the changes to welfare programs under the Fiscal Responsibility Act are projected to cause some Americans to lose their benefits, it will also expand access to include some of the country’s most vulnerable populations.

“Exempting (veterans) from these (work) requirements will make it easier for them. It will allow for them to not go hungry,” said Naveed Shah, the political director for Common Defense, a grassroots organization of progressive veterans.

“I think that’s a great thing,” added Shah, an Army veteran. “And it doesn’t mean that they’re not working. It just means that if their boss cuts their hours … they aren’t going to be out of food.”

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Shah also noted that the veteran families who qualify or depend on SNAP are among the most vulnerable within the group and are the most susceptible to any changes to their situation.  

In 2019, 1.1 million veterans and 22,000 active-duty service members received SNAP benefits, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Although he’s not thrilled the debt-ceiling deal includes expanded work requirements, “compromises have to be made,” Shah said. “And I think it's overall a good deal.”

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