The future of the food stamp program (“Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” or SNAP) was unclear on Monday (May 21) after conservative Republicans torpedoed a bill that included the Trump administration’s proposed reforms.
In a revolt against party leadership, hardline conservatives voted against the Republicans’ sweeping farm bill on Friday, a blow against House Speaker Paul Ryan who championed the bill as a giant step toward welfare reform.
Farm bills come before Congress every five years and include agricultural subsidies, as well as programs to provide food to low-income families. The Trump administration and Ryan wanted this farm bill to pass because it included historic new work requirements for food stamp beneficiaries that conservatives have wanted for years. Under the proposed reforms, eligibility for assistance would require millions of lower-income earning people to work at least 20 hours a week or enroll in a job training program.
However, conservatives broke with their leaders over an unrelated internal fight over immigration. The party’s extremist wing is angry that Ryan and moderate Republicans failed to bring their immigration policy agenda to vote. They decided to use the farm bill as leverage to get their way. By holding up passage of the farm bill, the extremists believe they could pressure party leaders to bring immigration legislation up for a vote first and then return to food stamp reform.
Meanwhile, the battle over food stamp reform is on hold, with an uncertain future. Democrats need the support of moderate Republicans to block the proposed changes.
If there is another vote, the Republicans may decide to write a farm bill minus the food stamp changes. That would make the reforms easier to pass, according to Politico. Another approach would be to yield to the conservatives by address immigration first and then return to the farm bill. That would need to happen sooner than later. Lawmakers typically don’t like voting on controversial bills too close to Election Day.