Fight continues over SNAP, other rising costs in 2023 Farm Bill

SNAP takes up a majority of the farm, bill but another title is growing in cost


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The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits have been a big talking point as discussions over the 2023 Farm Bill continue. SNAP benefits account for a significant amount of the trillion-plus-dollar legislation, which is the most expensive farm bill in history.

Chief Economist for the Senate Ag Committee John Newton says there were two big changes to their SNAP projections earlier this year.

“First, in the fiscal year 2023, they increased SNAP participation by approximately a million people, increased SNAP outlays by $18 billion in a single year — so SNAP went from $127 billion in February, and then in their May estimate, they raised it to 145 billion,” Newton said. “And then, over the next 10-year period, they increased SNAP again by $18 billion. Combined from February to May, the Congressional Budget Office updated their forecasts for SNAP spending by $36 billion, which just demonstrates the magnitude of the SNAP program and its relationship to the farm bill, again, over 80 percent.”

Conservation is another title that is seeing many modifications, also adding to the farm bill’s total price tag.

“If we add the IRA resources that are conservation-related, we’re looking at conservation spending and IRA spending combined at close to $75 billion, which would make that the second-largest title in the farm bill for farm-related provisions behind crop insurance,” Newton said.

Commodity prices are also playing a role. As those go down, the costs for risk management programs go up.

“Lower commodity prices, again, in the out years of the Farm Bill are expected to result in higher ARC and PLC payments from 2027 through 2033,” Newton explains. “We did also see in the baseline additional outlays for the Dairy Margin Coverage Program. The CBO lowered milk prices and feed costs, but they also lowered the income-over-feed cost margin by a substantial amount and increased DMC outlays by approximately a billion dollars or so over ten years. Then, they also essentially doubled outlays in the livestock disaster space.”

The 2023 Farm Bill has also been front and center for recent debt ceiling talks. House Republicans have said they will only agree to raise the limit if concessions are made when it comes to SNAP and specifically modifying the work requirements to obtain the income-based social service.

The current eligibility requirements for SNAP are determined based on the number of people in a household; their ages, disability status, and immigration status; as well as a formula that compares gross family income, net income, and assets.

While there are a few emergency exceptions (like a sudden loss of income or a sudden increase in household or medical expenses), the fiscal year 2023 requirements to qualify for SNAP are that the household income before any of the program’s deductions are applied must be at or below 130 percent of the poverty line. For a three-person family, that would be a total income of $2,495 a month (or less), or about $29,940 a year. The poverty level is higher for bigger families and lower for smaller families.

In terms of employment requirements, the current SNAP requirements (as of FY2023) state that “unemployed adults aged 18 to 49 who do not have children in the home and who do not have disabilities are limited to three months of SNAP benefits every three years in many areas of the country.” However, this can vary from state to state, as “states have broad authority to extend work requirements” for SNAP households.