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U.S. food aid eligibility battle could resurface in farm bill

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By Leah Douglas

(Reuters) – U.S. Democrat and Republican lawmakers in a Wednesday hearing returned to the issue of work requirements for federal food aid, a major tension point during the U.S. debt negotiations that could resurface as policymakers consider critical farm legislation in the coming months.

Currently, individuals aged 18 to 49 are required to work at least 20 hours per week in order to receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for more than three months over a three-year period. The debt plan signed by President Joe Biden on June 5 would raise that upper age limit to 54.

Democrats and anti-hunger groups strongly opposed the changes during negotiations, saying that work requirements are ineffective, punitive and could increase hunger in America. The final law will affect fewer people than earlier versions presented by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Yet after the bill passed the House on June 1, McCarthy signaled the conversation was not over. “Let’s go get the rest of the work requirements,” he said in an interview.

At a nutrition-focused hearing of the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday, Democratic members fumed about the debt plan and warned against any further changes to SNAP.

The committee, alongside its Senate counterpart, is engaged in a months-long process to pass a new farm bill, which funds U.S. farm commodity, conservation and nutrition programs like SNAP.

“Hunger should not be a political issue,” said Representative Jahana Hayes, a Connecticut Democrat. “[Republicans’] obsession with cutting food assistance is jarring.”

Republicans suggested, meanwhile, that the farm bill should include further SNAP reforms. During negotiations over the debt plan, Republicans argued that work requirements would encourage more low-income people to get jobs and reduce their dependence on federal aid.

The farm bill is passed every five years and is often the site of partisan tensions over nutrition spending.

About 80% of the upcoming farm bill – which the Congressional Budget Office projected in May will cost $1.5 trillion over 10 years – will be spent on nutrition programs.

(Reporting by Leah Douglas; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

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