What the debt ceiling measure passed by Congress means for SNAP recipients
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
The Senate narrowly passed the debt ceiling bill that will prevent the country from defaulting on its loans.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
It now goes to President Biden to sign into law before the government runs out of money to pay its bills. On Monday, one of the biggest sticking points among negotiators crafting the deal were new work requirements for social safety net programs.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR politics reporter Ximena Bustillo has been following the process.
Ximena, so is everything all good now with America and the debt?
XIMENA BUSTILLO, BYLINE: Well, it appears like crisis has been averted for now. Here is Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer after the Senate's vote last night.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CHUCK SCHUMER: I'm happy to stand here passing this critical legislation to support our families, preserve vital programs and, most importantly, avoid catastrophic default.
BUSTILLO: Schumer was threatening to keep members here over the weekend to get this through. So this is an accomplishment. And President Biden said he will sign the bill as soon as possible.
MARTÍNEZ: OK. Ximena, you've been covering food assistance. I want to play a clip from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who tried to explain why he thinks this bill could actually help people on welfare programs.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
KEVIN MCCARTHY: There's going to be people on welfare today that will no longer be on welfare, that they will find a job because of the work requirement.
MARTÍNEZ: So, Ximena, how is this supposed to help?
BUSTILLO: Well, the House Republicans were threatening to increase work requirements specifically for those ages 50 to 55 for food stamps and Medicaid. Food stamps currently limit so-called able-bodied adults without dependents ages 18 to 50 to three months of food stamp benefits during any 36-month period when they cannot show that they're employed or working in a training program for at least 20 hours a week. But Democrats and progressives really pushed back against that.
In the end, there were no changes to Medicaid, and Republicans did win an age increase, though only to 54. And Democrats got something a little extra. Veterans and homeless folks of any age and youth who aged out of foster care would be exempt from these work requirements. Then the Congressional Budget Office came out with its prediction, which found that there could be a slight increase in participation.
MARTÍNEZ: OK. So how might this proposed spending cut end up increasing participation?
BUSTILLO: Well, the Congressional Budget Office is predicting that there could be about 78,000 people added to food stamps. But keep in mind, that is only a 0.2% increase, so statistically, maybe not as significant. And it predicted an increase in spending levels at the same time. Republicans were really quickly to disagree with the CBO's math, and they instead touted it as a win. That's because they see addressing any sort of work requirements as an accomplishment. Here's Republican Representative Elise Stefanik.
ELISE STEFANIK: The Biden administration didn't want work requirements at all. They wanted a clean debt ceiling with no give. And we have accomplished this in this legislation.
BUSTILLO: Even though there are these new exemptions, progressive and hunger groups have criticized the bill because of that age increase. Here's Liza Lieberman, vice president of communications for a group called MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, who said these changes shouldn't have happened in the debt limit talks.
LIZA LIEBERMAN: It feels like it's illustrating the arbitrary nature of the time limits because it's playing numbers game.
BUSTILLO: And the outcome of this particular policy is really murky. The White House insists that the amount of people on work requirements before and after will not change, even as Republicans are arguing that they are bringing more people into the workforce. And a lot of this will come down to how states are going to be able to handle these changes. It's also important to note that this policy and the new exemptions will expire in 2030. So this is all temporary.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Ximena Bustillo.
Thanks for checking in.
BUSTILLO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.