Covid-19 relief bill suspends SNAP work and training requirements

The Senate is expected to vote this week on the House-passed Covid-19 relief bill that suspends work and job-training requirements for SNAP recipients, a step that could preserve benefits for hundreds of thousands of people. “I believe the vast majority of Senators in both parties will agree we should act swiftly to secure relief for American workers, families, and small businesses,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over the weekend.

The bill includes $1.25 billion for public nutrition programs, including $500 million for WIC, and it allows states to provide money to low-income families, via SNAP, to offset the loss of free and reduced-price meals when schools are closed for more than five days due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Representatives passed the “families first” bill by a bipartisan 363-40 roll call on Saturday, after the Trump administration gave its support to the package drafted by House Democrats. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin negotiated the final points of the bill on Friday.  “As we work to address this pandemic, I am glad we were able to strike a deal that ensures families across the country on SNAP continue to receive their benefits,” said Rep. Marcia Fudge, Ohio Democrat, who chairs the House subcommittee that oversees the anti-hunger program.

Meanwhile, U.S.district judge Beryl Howell blocked a USDA regulation, due to take effect April 1, that would toughen the 90-day limit on food stamps to able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) unless they work at least 20 hours a week, are in a job training program or part of a workfare program. Howell referred to the global pandemic in deciding “that aspects of the final rule are likely unlawful because they are arbitrary and capricious,” reported NBC News. The USDA said it would appeal.

“The Trump Administration has been blocked from taking food assistance away from families,” said Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, senior Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee. “This was the right ruling that will bring relief to Americans struggling to make ends meet especially during this public health crisis.”

Under the House bill, the SNAP work and training requirements are suspended for the duration of the Covid-19 emergency. Most SNAP recipients are required to register for work and to accept a suitable job if it is offered. Since the 1996 welfare reform law, SNAP recipients have been required to work at least 20 hours a week or face a limit of 90 days of food stamps in a three-year period.

With the pandemic slowing the U.S. economy, there was widespread concern in the anti-hunger community that SNAP recipients would lose benefits because they did not work enough hours or were laid off.

“In this time of uncertainty, the House has done the right thing by passing this bill, which takes significant steps to make sure that hunger does not increase as our nation responds to Covid-19,” said Food Research and Action Center.

More Covid-19 legislation is on the way, said Pelosi in a letter to House Democrats on Sunday. “We have already begun work to develop a third emergency response package that will continue to put Families First.”

In a summary, the House Appropriations Committee said the bill “suspends the work and work-training requirements for SNAP during this crisis,” allows waivers to provide emergency benefits to existing SNAP households, allows child and adult care centers to distribute meals rather than requiring group meals and allows states to provide money to families to make up for school meals lost during closures. Its funding provisions for USDA include $500 million for WIC, $400 million to assist food banks, $100 million in nutrition grants to Puerto Rico and U.S. territories. It also provides $250 million for meals provided by senior nutrition programs run by HHS.

A summary of the bill is available here.

The text of HR6201 is available here.