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Proposed Farm Bill Could Take SNAP Away From 70,000 Pennsylvania Households

Gene J. Puskar
In this Feb. 26, 2018, file photo, Carl Lewis in his market in Rankin, Pa. About half of Lewis' customers pay with benefits from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Two major proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, could cause 70,000 Pennsylvania households to lose eligibility.

The estimate is based on families who would lose benefits due to new work requirements and income, according to the left-leaning Center of Budget and Policy Priorities. Federal lawmakers are expected to vote on anew Farm Bill, which includes the SNAP changes, this week.

Under the bill, parents with kids who are six and older, and people between 50 and 59 years old will become ineligible for SNAP if they don't work at least 25 hours a week. This change will fully come into effect in 2026.

Income eligibility will also change, and become limited to those who make no more than 130 percent of the federal poverty level. For a four person household, this would be an income of about $33,000.

GOP lawmakers pushing for the SNAP amendments say its a necessary update to an antiquated law. They say there are too many loopholes for people to receive SNAP who don't need it, and that the current work requirements are insufficient. Reforming the program is a key priority for Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis), who is retiring after his current term.

Currently, SNAP is available to people who make up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which for a four person household means an income of about $50,000.

Nearly two million Pennsylvanians are enrolled in SNAP. 

Eric Roberts, a health policy expert at the University of Pittsburgh, said the proposed changes could have unintended consequences.

"The administrative cost of determining work eligibility, and re-certifying individuals periodically might actually exceed the savings," he said.

Roberts said there should be a balance between accessibility, and making sure only people who need the programs are enrolled.

"I think there's concern that with this new policy, we might be erring more on the side of being punitive and too restrictive," he said. "And I think that might come at a cost of helping people who deserve it and benefit from these programs."

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that President Donald Trump would veto the Farm Bill if it didn't include stricter work requirements for SNAP, which some Democratic lawmakers oppose.