Food stamp eligibility sparks debate over 2018 Farm Bill

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - A bill brought before the House agriculture committee for the first time Wednesday morning would enact stricter work requirements for Americans participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps.

The 2018 Farm Bill had previously drawn bipartisan support, but the disagreement between Republicans and Democrats over food stamp eligibility has left the committee divided.

In its current form, the bill would expand funding for some state programs that provide job training. But it would also require able-bodied adults between 18-59 to work at least 20 hours a week in order to be eligible for food stamps.

Backers of the bill, including farm committee chair Rep. Mike Conway, R-Texas, say it strikes a fair balance and could help many low-income families out of poverty by providing them with new job skills.

“I crafted a budget-neutral nutrition title that I believe not only keeps faith with SNAP beneficiaries but goes a step further by offering the hope of a job and a skill and a better future for themselves and their families,” Conway said in his opening statement at the committee meeting Wednesday.

But opponents say the bill would just kick millions of Americans off the program, making it harder for them to put food on the table. The Alaska Food Coalition says roughly 100,000 Alaskans participate in the SNAP program, and the organization’s SNAP caseload has increased 34 percent in the last year.

“The amount that they provide for the training is not enough for states to actually cover the costs of administering the program,” said food coalition manager Sarra Khlifi. “It doesn’t make up for the amount of benefits that will be lost in that transition period.”

Khlifi says the bill would be particularly disastrous in Alaska because of the state’s high unemployment rate and rural population.

“We know that a lot of Alaskans would be kicked off the program, not because they’re not working, but because of the lag between times to turn paperwork,” she said. “A lot of times the notification process can be flawed since a lot of it is not electronic, so we’re just concerned that people would fall off the program who don’t fall into this category of not working.”

Channel 2 contacted Congressman Don Young’s office to get his position on the bill. A spokesperson said Young has not had a chance to review the bill, and likely will not comment until a final version makes it out of committee.

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