Food stamp reform slowly gains momentum in House

Food stamp reform slowly gains momentum in House
© Greg Nash

A top House Republican appears to be convincing some wary conservatives to support an overhaul of the food stamp program that’s included in the 2018 farm bill.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayLive coverage: Democrats, Republicans seek to win PR battle in final House impeachment hearing Laughter erupts at hearing after Democrat fires back: Trump 'has 5 Pinocchios on a daily basis' Live coverage: Schiff closes with speech highlighting claims of Trump's corruption MORE (R-Texas) on Friday held a listening session on the legislation to talk about the provision that would expand work requirements and shift a substantial portion of food stamp funding from benefits to job training.

“The more that I was able to talk to folks about the specifics of what we do, the better they like it, so I’m encouraged by the reaction,” Conaway told reporters Friday.

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The legislation passed out of the Agriculture Committee earlier this month on a party-line vote, but Conaway needs the support of some of the more conservative members of his party if the legislation stands a chance of passing the House.

Conservatives have long been champions of changing the federal safety net, and have been opposed to the bill because they said the work requirements weren’t strict enough. Conaway said he sees some of that opposition thawing.

“The things they wanted are what we’re doing ... it’s just a question, is there enough in the [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] SNAP side to cause those that had problems in the overall farm bill to vote 'yes' when we bring it to the floor,” Conaway said.

Rep. Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats worry about diversity on next debate stage North Carolina congressman says he won't seek reelection after redistricting NC rep explores Tillis primary challenge MORE (R-N.C.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said he also sees some support coming from additional conservatives. 

“There are still a few things that need to be fleshed out in that area to make sure we’re reaching out to enough able-bodied adults to continue to transition them to a better life, upward mobility,” Walker told The Hill. “So there’s a few little things that have to be wrapped up there, but other than that, yes. It feels positive.”

Democrats oppose the legislation, which would dramatically expand mandatory state workforce training programs and would require all “able-bodied” adults without dependents aged 18-59 to work at least 20 hours a week or be enrolled in a training program in order to receive SNAP benefits.

Those who fail to comply with the requirements would face a loss of benefits — the first failure would mean a loss of benefits for 12 months, and each subsequent failure would lock individuals out of the program for 36 months.

The legislation still faces an uphill battle to becoming law and Conaway admitted he still has work to do. 

“We haven’t accumulated any numbers. We have a lot of educating to do,” Conaway said. “I hope to try to meet with [the moderate] Tuesday Group, if I can meet with the [conservative] Freedom Caucus … whatever it takes to get people to the point where they know what they’re doing on this issue.”

Part of the problem for conservatives is that they know the Senate version will have to be more bipartisan, which is likely to mean the strict work requirements and spending cuts they want will be watered down.   

There’s also the concern that some of the more moderate Republicans may want to avoid a fight over welfare reform in an election year.

“I don’t know that there’s any of us who really believe the House bill is going to be the bill the president signs into law,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsTop Zelensky aide refutes Sondland testimony Watchdog report finds FBI not motivated by political bias in Trump probe The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - A crucial week on impeachment MORE (R-N.C.) told The Hill.

If the House and Senate ultimately pass different bills and go to conference to work out the differences, “they don’t need Republicans on the conference, and so conservative Republicans lose their leverage,” Meadows said.