WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced legislation that would expand Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food assistance, formerly known as food stamps, for children in response to a proposal in the House of Representatives to impose stricter work requirements for SNAP recipients.
Gillibrand, D-N.Y., announced Tuesday she will be introducing the SNAP for KIDS Act, which would increase food assistance for children between the ages of 5 and 17 by $42 per month — a 27 percent increase — and would adjust the formula for future percentage increases.
“Families, on average, receive $153 a month in SNAP benefits,” Gillibrand said. “I spend more than that for my kids. This is not a partisan issue. We should all agree that kids should not go hungry.”
Republicans in the House of Representatives announced a plan last week to create stricter work requirements for SNAP benefits and include it in their 2018 Farm Bill.
House leadership proposes requiring most adults between 18 and 59 to work part-time or enroll in 20 hours a week of workforce training to receive assistance. The plan budgets $1 billion a year to fund the training program expansion.
“That’s crap,” said Stacy Petty, of Hudson. “They do not give enough to people who need it. My mother is on food stamps — she is in her late 70s — and she only gets $80 a week. How are you supposed to live on that?”
Petty remembers being on food stamps growing up and the government providing his family with its own issued food to supplement what his family could not afford with food stamps alone. The government-issued food was not high-quality, he said.
“For such a rich country, the government needs to stop targeting people who need help,” Petty said. “Instead, they should target the wealthiest people who do not contribute enough.”
Work requirements for SNAP do not make sense, said Lamar Joseph, of Hudson.
“I always thought you go on food stamps and programs like that because you cannot find work,” Joseph said. “If you could work, if you could get a job, then you wouldn’t need to be on food stamps.”
The government already requires certain recipients — able-bodied individuals without dependents between the ages of 18 and 49 — to work a minimum of 80 hours per month, or comply with a workfare program, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website.
“I do not think the proposed requirements will change the rules that much,” Greene County Department of Social Services Commissioner Kira Pospesel said. “People on SNAP should be working. It is a safety net. This may just align all the rules together and that makes sense to me.”
As long as disabled people are able to access benefits, Pospesel said the work requirements should significantly impact recipients.
The Greene County Department of Social Services handled 2,790 SNAP cases as of the end of March, which includes families, and distributed benefits to 4,780 individuals.
As of January, Columbia County handled 457 cases, or 793 individuals, which equates to $297,734 in benefits, according to the USDA’s website.
The county handled more cases in January 2017 with 520 cases, or 954 individuals, which equated to $283,261.
“That has to include people who are working, because you could not survive on SNAP alone,” Pospesel said. “You couldn’t survive without doing something else, for example, getting disability benefits.”
Gillibrand echoed Pospesel, saying the issue is not people receiving benefits while they are unemployed, but the paperwork the Republican proposal will create.
“The bill will create more paperwork for recipients to ensure less people get SNAP benefits,” Gillibrand said. “I will fight the House leadership’s proposal in the farm bill.”
The Congressional Budget Office’s preliminary estimates suggest the new requirements would cut SNAP enrollment by as many as 1 million people over the next 10 years.
U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-19, wrote an op-ed piece published in the Albany Times Union on April 9, where he said SNAP benefits are important to many people in the state, but argued work requirements are necessary to help people wean off the assistance.
“Like any program of this size, SNAP is not without flaws,” Faso wrote. “The program insufficiently promotes self-sufficiency; too many recipients could be working, but are not.”
Faso wrote the federal government loses around $650 million a year because of fraud and abuse of the program and the program does not promote nutrition and reduce childhood obesity.
Faso also proposed changing asset tests for qualifying for benefits including allowing a recipient to have a car worth more than $12,000 instead of the current $5,000 limit.
“If we expect someone to work, they need a reliable vehicle to get to the job,” Faso said. “We should also allow a recipient to have savings up to $2,000, without affecting eligibility.”
The Washington Post contributed to this report.