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Debt ceiling deal expands SNAP—slightly

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Now that the debt ceiling deal negotiated between President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has been ratified in the Senate, it’s of interest to look at what it will and will not do to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP; aka food stamps).

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Although there had been fears of widespread SNAP cuts, it turns out that the program will grow slightly under the agreement.

The current SNAP provisions include work requirements for able-bodied adults under the age of 50 who do not live with dependent children. These requirements will now extend to adults 54 and under.

On the other hand, “several groups would newly be exempt from work requirements: people experiencing homelessness, veterans, and people ages 18 to 24 who were in foster care when they turned 18,” noted the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in a letter to Speaker McCarthy about the deal.

This would include beneficiaries under 50 who were formerly subject to work requirements.

Consequently, the debt ceiling deal actually increases SNAP eligibility: during the 2025–2030 period (when these measures are in effect), “approximately 78,000 people would gain benefits in an average month, on net (an increase of about 0.2 percent in the total number of people receiving SNAP benefits),” CBO points out.

CBO also estimates that “all of the changes to SNAP work requirements would increase direct spending by $2.1 billion over the 2023–2033 period.”

“The agreement will provide meaningful & much-needed support for Americans who are homeless & housing insecure,” Tweeted Marcia Fudge, secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

As usual, there is the temptation to view everything in terms of Good News and Bad News, but here (again, as usual) it isn’t particularly helpful.

The dissatisfaction expressed throughout the entire ideological spectrum suggests that the debt ceiling deal is overall as good as anyone might have expected: any compromise is bound to leave each party disappointed in certain respects. And this deal leaves SNAP benefits ahead, even if only slightly, of what they were.

The SNAP program is of especially high interest to the produce industry now because of increased efforts to stimulate fresh fruit and vegetable purchases among beneficiaries.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.