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GOP’s Plan to Tighten Work Requirements for Food Stamps and Other Assistance Programs Draws Opposition from Some Party Members

Republican leaders are finding it difficult to agree on a budget blueprint that can achieve the deep spending cuts they seek for raising the debt ceiling to avoid a default this summer. In addition, their plans to tighten work requirements for food stamps and other government assistance programs to slash federal spending has caused political discomfort for some Republicans. Representative Marc Molinaro, who flipped an open seat in the Hudson Valley last year, grew up on food stamps and subsidized school lunches, and he is not in support of reducing support for single moms. This is making it harder for Republican leaders to come to a consensus on budget plans that can win the support of both mainstream Republicans and right-wing hard-liners. The Republicans have already ruled out reductions to Medicare or Social Security, determined to insulate themselves and their most politically vulnerable members from accusations that they support slashing benefits for older Americans. Even cuts to food assistance programs could make for a politically fraught vote.

Top House Republicans have made increasing work requirements for participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, a central element of whatever spending blueprint they will ultimately release. Republican Representative Dusty Johnson of South Dakota introduced legislation earlier this year that would make able-bodied adults without dependents subject to work requirements until they are 65 years old, raising the current age from 49. The bill would also narrow an exemption from work requirements for some people in households with children under 18, excusing only those whose households include children under the age of 7. Proponents of an overhaul argue that states abuse the waivers, seeking them even when jobs are readily available, and the government is too lax about granting them.

Republican lawmakers in politically competitive districts in states that routinely apply for such waivers, including New York and California, are finding it hard to support the proposed changes. Representative David Valadao, whose seat is the most Democratic district to be held by a Republican, previously voted against legislation cutting $40 billion in funding for food stamps. “It is unfair to the American people for Congress to implement policies containing work requirements when our national economy is severely suffering,” he said then.

In conclusion, the Republicans have a razor-thin majority and need the support of both mainstream Republicans in competitive districts and right-wing hard-liners to pass a fiscal plan. However, they cannot afford more than a few defections in their ranks if they hope to pass the plan. The Republicans have ruled out reductions to Medicare or Social Security and are trying to cut spending by increasing work requirements for participants in SNAP. They are also trying to eliminate state waivers, which they believe are being abused, taking away their ability to request that the mandate be relaxed if there are not enough jobs to provide recipients employment. However, even the seemingly easier steps, such as cuts in food assistance programs, could make for a politically fraught vote, especially in politically competitive districts in states that routinely apply for such waivers.

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