(WASHINGTON) — Work requirements for government safety net programs are back in the spotlight as the House readies for a key vote on the debt ceiling deal brokered by President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
In a twist, a new analysis from the Congressional Budget Office released late Tuesday found tougher rules for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that Republicans demanded would actually increase the number of people eligible for benefits, sometimes referred to as food stamps.
The nonpartisan agency estimated the provisions relating to SNAP would add $2.1 billion in direct spending and 78,000 people would gain benefits in an average month.
Top Republicans are calling the CBO report flat-out inaccurate, and McCarthy suggested the agency “double counted” some recipients already exempt from work requirements.
“The estimates are wrong. They’re just wrong,” Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., said in a news conference Wednesday alongside his fellow GOP negotiator Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina.
The CBO has not commented on the criticism from Republicans.
House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries, on the other hand, said the CBO development “speaks for itself” as he criticized Republicans for making them one of the focal points in the debt ceiling agreement.
“In terms of the so-called work requirements, which by the way have been in law since 1996, this was a phony, fake talking point injected unnecessarily into this discussion,” Jeffries said at his own news conference alongside House Democratic leadership.
Imposing stricter eligibility rules for SNAP and other federal assistance programs was a major sticking point that held up negotiations even as talks stretched closer to the potential default date. At one point, McCarthy described their inclusion in a final deal as a “red line” for Republicans.
At the same time, progressive Democrats warned of pushback if stricter work requirements were included. Progressive Whip Greg Casar told ABC News Senior Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott he was leaning no on Wednesday’s vote to approve the bill for that exact reason.
“Many progressives, including me, lean no because the bill does contain taking some folks like 53 and 54 year olds off of their food stamps,” Casar, D-Texas, said.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., told ABC’s Scott that she won’t vote yes on the bill because she it’s up to Republicans to “own this vote.”
“They’re the ones trying to come in and cut SNAP,” she said. “They’re trying to come and cut environmental protections.”
Republicans won some changes to SNAP and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) but their demand for stricter requirements for recipients of Medicaid and Medicare were taken off the table.
The Fiscal Responsibility Act would increase the age limit for work requirements on able-bodied adults without dependents from 49 to 54 by 2025, though the provision would expire by 2030.
The legislation also includes new exemptions for veterans, people experiencing homelessness and people ages 18 to 24 who are aging out of the foster care system.
Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young said Tuesday the Biden administration was waiting for a USDA analysis on the impact of the SNAP changes, but believed the number of those now exempted would be about the same as those subject to work requirements.
“There’s a very real possibility, when we see the numbers, that the number who are phased in, who have new requirements on SNAP, is offset by the number who will now be covered under the new exemptions,” she said at the White House press briefing.
McHenry defended the new exemptions in his presser with Graves, calling them “thoughtful public policy” and highlighted the bill would cut down the cap for the population states can exempt from work requirements from 12% to 8%.
But the CBO score only added to the furor to the growing number of House Republicans who are opposed to the debt ceiling deal.
“Don’t really want to hear how CBO is wrong on SNAP [because] CBO did this bill a lot of favors, and it’s still a bad deal,” Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., wrote on Twitter.
“The Biden-McCarthy deal expands welfare,” Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., tweeted. “Heckuva negotiation, guys.”
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