Congressman Conaway Climbs Uphill in Battle to Reform Food Stamps
SAN ANGELO, TX — “The Democrats en mass fled the scene and walked to the sidelines during the markup for the 2019 Farm Bill. They didn’t offer one amendment. They didn’t even offer an amendment that said ‘start over!’ They cared so little about the legislative process that they basically just sat there,” is how Congressman Mike Conaway began his explanation of how his committee drafted what has become a controversial piece a legislation the full house will vote to approve or disapprove next week.
Conaway addressed the San Angelo Rotary Club meeting at Zentner’s Daughter Steakhouse, 1901 Knickerbocker Rd., on Friday, May 4.
Conaway is the chair of the House Committee on Agriculture. His committee drafted a bill that increases the work requirements for recipients of food stamps, the program officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
The provision in the bill the Democrats don’t like is, if you are aged 18 to 59, and work capable, you must work 20 hours a week, or you must participate in a state-run program to do whatever it takes that will elevate the work-capable SNAP recipient to a level where that person can become gainfully employed, whether it’s job training, case management, help with a search for a job, childcare assistance, and etc. In 2026, the work requirement jumps to 25 hours per week.
“The idea is, if you’re willing to help yourself, then we’re going to take government resources and help you along,” Conaway said.
The work requirement will in practice only impact 40 percent of SNAP recipients. Conaway noted that 60 percent of recipients are always going to be helped because they are not work-capable. These people include the elderly, children under the age of 18, physically disabled. “That body of folks we’re just going to help, because that’s who we are as a country,” he said.
SNAP already requires for able-bodied individuals, from 18-49 of age, to work or participate in a work program. It will allow abled-bodied individuals to receive food stamps for up to three months every three years without work, however.
Conaway said the committee conducted a review of the SNAP program last year and formed recommendations based upon its findings. Further, Conaway argued, the work requirements for receiving SNAP have high approval—around 80 percent combined—for both Republicans and Democrats.
But Conaway’s senior leader on his committee from the minority party, Congressman Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota), told the NPR that Conaway’s SNAP overhaul would “increase food insecurity and hardship.”
This will be the first time in history that the farm bill will be voted up or down on a pure party-line vote. Peterson accuses Conaway of partisan rancor with the bill. Conaway claimed not Peterson or anyone else on the other side of the aisle attempted to collaborate with Republicans when drafting the legislation.
Conaway said he desired bi-partisan help with the bill. “I can get this bill out of the House on a strict party line vote,” he said. “The problem is in the Senate, they have the 60-vote issue, so I have to have Democrat support,” he said. Conaway was referring to the rule in the Senate that requires a supermajority of 60 votes in the 100-member government body to pass new legislation without a filibuster. Republicans hold a small majority of just 51 votes. Conaway needs nine Democrat senators to help him reform SNAP.
Conaway admitted he has very little leverage in getting the reforms passed through the Senate. “The non-SNAP provisions of the law expire October 1. On the non-SNAP portion of the law, it has a dramatic impact by that expiration date. Farm programs go away, and we revert back to permanent law which is from 1937 to 1947,” he said. That means farmers will not get their farming subsidies. But SNAP, because of the way previous laws were passed, continues on unfettered, based in the Obama-era legislation. “Nothing bad happens to SNAP when the law expires,” Conaway said.
The Senators who don’t want to change SNAP, or oppose the new bill, only have to sit on their hands or vote No.
Conaway is working with the House leadership to secure enough Republican votes to take it to the floor next week (week of May 14). According to Politico, he is facing opposition from more conservative members of the House who say the 2019 Farm Bill doesn’t do enough to reform food stamps. Food stamps comprise about 80 percent of the Farm Bill’s proposed spending.
About 13.5 percent of Americans receive SNAP, which equates to about 40.7 million people on April 6, 2017.
For more on other provisions in the Farm Bill, the High Plains Journal has a complete rundown.