House panel votes to block two Trump rules restricting SNAP access

The Trump administration would be barred from implementing two rules that would end SNAP benefits for an estimated 700,000 people during the coronavirus pandemic under a USDA-FDA funding bill approved by a Democratic-controlled House subcommittee on Monday. The provisions on SNAP rules may be poison pills that doom the $153 billion appropriations bill, warned Rep. Kay Granger, the Republican leader on the House Appropriations Committee.

“Our bill blocks two unconscionable SNAP rules designed to restrict program eligibility during a pandemic that has made it even harder for American families to put food on the table,” said subcommittee chairman Sanford Bishop, a Georgia Democrat, during a 40-minute “mark up” of the bill. The full committee is scheduled to vote on the bill on Thursday.

Besides the SNAP riders, the bill would block the USDA from allowing meatpackers to increase line speeds at processing plants during the coronavirus emergency.

Congress has passed coronavirus relief laws that temporarily sidetrack three Trump regulations to tighten SNAP eligibility while a public emergency order is in effect. Two of them are the objects of the USDA-FDA funding bill; one would toughen the time limit for SNAP benefits — 90 days in a three-year period — for to able-bodied adults without young children and who do not work at least 20 hours a week. The other would change the formula for calculating utility costs, a factor in determining benefits. Some 700,000 people would lose benefits under the proposals. The USDA-FDA funding bill would block implementation of the rules during fiscal 2021, beginning on October 1.

The third rule would end benefits for 3 million people by restricting use of so-called categorial eligibility, which allows states to modify asset tests and income limits so people who receive social services can be considered for food stamps.

Appropriators intend to put strong language, encouraging the administration to withdraw the “cat el” proposal, in a report that accompanies the funding bill, said a Democratic aide. It was “not feasible” to block the rule with a rider on the USDA-FDA bill, said the aide. If the administration does not withdraw the proposal, “the most appropriate place to block the rule is through authorizing legislation,” meaning free-standing bill that probably would go through the Agriculture Committee.

New York Democrat Nita Lowey, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, pointed to the doubling of food insecurity during the pandemic, felt most harshly by Black and Hispanic households with children. She said the bill “meets the needs of SNAP and WIC to ensure the most vulnerable have access to nutritious meals.”

“I’m concerned about several controversial riders in the bill, a few of which may be poison pills,” said Granger. “The bill contains provisions that would permanently prevent the administration from implementing reforms.”

The bill includes $1.055 billion for rural broadband, an increase of $435 million from this year. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, Nebraska Republican, said the pandemic created a “digital leap” into tele-health and distance learning. “If our kids don’t have [broadband access], they’re falling behind in school,” said Rep. Robert Aderholt.

Maine Democrat Chellie Pingree said the rider on line speeds would improve “safety in our slaughterhouses” and help protect workers.

Also on Monday, Senate Finance chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa said Congress may be headed for a stalemate over government funding bills. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told some GOP senators last week that a catch-all spending bill was possible this fall because of disagreements with Democrats, said Grassley during a teleconference.

The House funding bill for USDA did not include a goal of the American Farm Bureau Federation, a doubling, to $68 billion, of the spending power of “USDA’s bank,” the Commodity Credit Corp. At present, the CCC, the conduit for multibillion-dollar trade war and coronavirus relief programs for agriculture, is limited to $30 billion before it must ask Congress for more money. Farm Bureau president Zippy Duvall demurred at a proposal by House Agriculture chairman Colin Peterson for USDA to obtain congressional approval before using CCC money. “I think that slows the process down,” said Duvall during a broadcast interview.

An Appropriations Committee description of the USDA-FDA funding bill is available here.

For the text of the bill as it was presented to the subcommittee, click here.

To watch a video of the subcommittee meeting, click here.