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For the 2023 Farm Bill, expect a political showdown over SNAP benefits

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A grocery cart sits in an aisle at a grocery store in Washington, DC, on February 15, 2023.

As grocery costs remain high, a shrinking budget for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program could be a strain for recipients. Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

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Negotiations for the 2023 Farm Bill are getting underway. That massive government spending package gets a refresh roughly every five years. And despite its name, the bulk of the Farm Bill has to do with anti-hunger policy.

Lawmakers have an opportunity to tinker with programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as SNAP, and debate its budget. And this is happening just as extra pandemic-era funding for that program runs out, and as grocery costs remain stubbornly high.

The Farm Bill has propped up American agriculture since the Great Depression. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that lawmakers tied crop subsidies to food assistance, per Vincent Smith with the American Enterprise Institute. 

“To ensure that farm districts and urban districts would coalesce to support funding for farm programs and for nutrition programs,” he said.

But every five years, it takes a political showdown to reach that consensus — particularly when it comes to spending on SNAP benefits, which got a boost during the pandemic.

That will be a debate flashpoint, “about whether the overall change, which increased underlying benefits, was appropriate and whether it was too much,” said Elaine Waxman at the Urban Institute.

During a Congressional hearing on Thursday, Republican lawmakers took aim at the overall size of the SNAP budget. 

Shrinking it in this year’s Farm Bill would be a strain for the program’s 41 million recipients, “because of the current inflationary environment,” Waxman said.

Another likely point of contention will be employment requirements for SNAP, which Dottie Rosenbaum with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said are too strict. 

“Those provisions that are already in law do not help people find employment, what they do is take food assistance away,” she said.

With Republicans controlling the House, we’ll likely see a push to increase enforcement of work requirements.

“It’ll be a fight, that will be a fight,” said Smith with the American Enterprise Institute.

The Farm Bill may be a symbol of political harmony, he said — but the process of hammering out a new one won’t be pretty.

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