Personal Finance

Nearly 750,000 adults may lose SNAP federal food assistance after debt ceiling deal, research shows

Key Points
  • A bipartisan deal to raise the debt ceiling included changes to SNAP food assistance benefits.
  • Here's who may be affected the most.

In this article

Tomml | E+ | Getty Images

A new deal to lift the nation's debt ceiling includes fresh work reporting requirements for 50-something adults who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits.

The change could result in almost 750,000 adults ages 50 to 54 losing their federal food assistance, according to new research from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

SNAP benefits, also called food stamps, provide low-income individuals and families with monthly funds for food purchases.

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Debt ceiling deal changes SNAP work requirements

SNAP already has work requirements for most adults ages 18 through 49 who do not have children.

Those beneficiaries may only qualify for benefits for three months in a three-year period unless they meet certain eligibility requirements. That includes being able to show they are either working or participating in job training for 20 hours per week. They may otherwise still qualify if they fall under an exemption category, such as if they are pregnant, disabled or have a physical or mental condition that prevents them from working.

You're not going to balance the budget, much less pay down the debt, through these kinds of changes.
Ed Bolen
director of SNAP state strategies at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

The new legislation raises the ages those requirements apply to to include childless workers ages 50 to 54. The law would gradually phase in those workers by age, starting with those age 50 from 90 days after the law is enacted and eventually expanding to include 53- and 54-year-olds in 2024.

The requirements would be effective through Oct. 1, 2030.

The legislation also adds new categories of workers who are exempt from the work reporting requirements, including those who are homeless, veterans or those who were in the foster care system.

Cuts may create 'a quiet struggle'

The changes will cut spending on SNAP, including how many people qualify for assistance.

In a Sunday interview with Fox News, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., touted the new work requirements as a win for welfare reform in the debt ceiling deal.

"We got it in welfare that puts people back to work, the core of what we looked for," McCarthy said.

But some experts are concerned about the effects the moves may have on families in need.

Ed Bolen, director of SNAP state strategies at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said it is "upsetting" to see the changes included in the debt ceiling legislation.

"You're not going to balance the budget, much less pay down the debt, through these kinds of changes," Bolen said. "On the other hand, you're going to affect up to 750,000 low-income older Americans who need food assistance."

House Speaker McCarthy on debt ceiling deal: This was a turning of the ship
House Speaker McCarthy on debt ceiling deal: This was a turning of the ship

States, food banks and charitable organizations may step in to try to make up for the reduced access to SNAP benefits.

However, they will not be able to entirely fill the void, said Ellen Vollinger, SNAP director at the Food Research and Action Center. For every one meal food banks provide, SNAP provides nine times that assistance, she said.

"It's not as if the problem goes away," Vollinger said.

However, much of the shortfall may not be obvious. "A lot of that is going to be a quiet struggle that's going to play out in kitchens around the country," Vollinger added.

Drop in SNAP benefits may hurt in other ways

The new requirements also introduce other challenges, experts note.

SNAP is meant to help provide support to people who may be struggling to find work, Bolen noted. Expanded work requirements may make it tougher for older workers to find support at the same time they may encounter discrimination when trying to reenter the work force, he said.

Moreover, it may also be difficult for beneficiaries to prove they fall under the new exemption categories, particularly for those who are homeless, he said.

Ultimately, a decline in SNAP benefits may also hurt the economy, according to Vollinger.

For every dollar of SNAP during a downturn, estimates have found there is an economic generator of about $1.50 to $1.80, she said. Research also shows that SNAP benefits help support jobs in the farming sector, trucking industry and grocery stores, Vollinger said.