FILE - U.S. Capitol

The United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Talks are now under way between U.S. House members who supported a farm bill with a work requirement for food stamp recipients and a handful of senators who passed a version of the bill without a work requirement.

Congress has until the end of September to get a new farm bill to President Donald Trump’s desk before the existing one expires. While the bill is important to the agricultural community, the bulk of the spending goes to federal food assistance. The House’s bill passed with a requirement that able-bodied recipients without young children need to either work or train for 20 hours a week to qualify for food assistance. The Senate’s didn’t.

Creighton University Economist Ernie Goss predicts House members of the committee tasked with merging the two bills will not get a work requirement in the final version.

“I expect it to be tossed out,” he said. “Including a work requirement would increase that [workforce] participation rate but, because of Democrats, it’s very unlikely to include a work requirement.”

Although he wasn’t selected for the committee by Senate leadership, senior U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin appeared to leave the door open for a work requirement in an interview earlier this year.

“There could be, but let’s do it carefully,” Durbin said. “Over half the people who receive food stamps, or the SNAP program, are already working.”

A poll conducted for the Foundation for Government Accountability showed broad support from voters on requiring aid recipients to work. Nationally, 82 percent of likely voters polled in April supported a work requirement for the able-bodied to get federal food assistance.

FGA Vice President of Research Jonathan Ingram said the requirement is not only popular with voters but it’s also popular with the president, who has warned that a farm bill lacking the work requirement could get vetoed.

“The president has made it clear that moving people from welfare to work is one of his top priorities,” Ingram said. “With a record number of open jobs and a near-record high of able-bodied adults on food stamps, there’s never been a better time to get them back to work with a common-sense reform that still accounts for our nation’s vulnerable.”

Critics of the requirement said the bureaucratic red tape could result in errors that would force otherwise qualified recipients to go hungry.

House Conference Committee members:

  • Republicans
    • Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas
    • Rep. Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania
    • Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia
    • Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma
    • Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama
    • Rep. Austin Scott of Georgia
    • Rep. Rick Crawford of Arkansas
    • Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri
    • Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois
    • Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida
    • Rep. David Rouzer of North Carolina
    • Rep. Roger Marshall of Kansas
    • Rep. Jodey Arrington of Texas
  • Democrats
    • Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota
    • Rep. David Scott of Georgia
    • Rep. Jim Costa of California
    • Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota
    • Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio
    • Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts
    • Rep. Filemon Vela of Texas
    • Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico
    • Rep. Ann Kuster of New Hampshire
    • Rep. Tom O’Halleran of Arizona

Senate Conference Committee members:

  • Republicans
    • Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas
    • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky
    • Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota
    • Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa
    • Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas
  • Democrats
    • Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan
    • Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont
    • Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio
    • Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota


Staff Reporter

Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois government and statewide issues for The Center Square. He has produced radio shows for stations in Bloomington/Normal and Peoria, and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.