Skip to main content
Blog Post

Missed Opportunities in the Proposed Farm Bill


May 22, 2024

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn Thompson’s proposed Farm Bill reauthorization, The Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024, heads to committee markup today. The Farm Bill is a tough reauthorization normally, and even more difficult in a tightly divided House. While there are provisions that would improve the program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) needs overarching reform and the proposed bill misses important opportunities. 

As a key pillar in the safety net, SNAP should serve households in need and help them achieve a better life. For SNAP to achieve these objectives, it needs reform in five key areas: 1) benefit levels; 2) fraud prevention; 3) nutrition; 4) employment; and 5) overall administration. While the proposed Farm Bill would make some progress in the first three areas, it doesn’t sufficiently address SNAP’s employment problem or reform the program’s overall structure.

Let’s start with the positive changes: preventing future benefit increases, fraud detection, and nutrition oversight.

Firstly, the bill reins in future administrative benefit increases. In 2020, SNAP cost $74.2 billion, but then jumped to $113 billion by 2022. While some of this increase was due to the extra 4.3 million enrollees and annual inflation adjustments, the 2021 Thrifty Food Plan made up most of the increased spending. In their 2021 TFP update, the USDA ignored precedent and increased SNAP benefit levels by about 23 percent—costing $200 billion more over 10 years—raising benefits without Congressional approval for the first time in the program’s history. The proposed Farm Bill does not roll back the 2021 TFP, which would save taxpayers up to $20 billion a year, but it would require that the 2026 update be cost-neutral.

The proposed bill would address waste and abuse of the program. Payment errors cost SNAP $10 billion per year, and trafficking—when individuals or retailers misuse benefits—adds another at least $1.3 billion annually. The proposed bill would create an office of program integrity (Sec. 4116) and require disclosure of payment errors of any size, instead of just those over $48 (Sec. 4114). It would also permit states to retain more recovered funds for fraud detection (Sec. 4113) and empower them to disenroll retailers taking advantage of SNAP (Sec. 4112). Finally, the bill would repeat their 2018 mandate to USDA to implement the National Accuracy Clearinghouse, which prevents duplicative enrollment, in all 50 states (Sec. 4110).

The proposed bill takes steps to improve nutrition among beneficiaries. While preventing hunger has always been a SNAP goal, the program undeniably subsidizes unhealthy diets. Three of the top five SNAP household expenditures include sweetened beverages, frozen prepared meals, and desserts, differentiating them from non-SNAP households. The bill would make “healthy life” a SNAP goal (Sec. 4101) and create outcome oversight of nutrition education. It would also require an administrative proposal to unify current programs (Sec. 4120) and a study on diet quality (Sec. 4129).

Where this Farm Bill falls short is addressing SNAP’s long-term problems.  

The bill doesn’t incentivize employment, despite the stated purpose of SNAP “to assist low-income adults in obtaining employment and increasing their earnings.” SNAP’s work requirement only applies to 12 percent of beneficiaries—known as able-bodied adults without dependents (or ABAWDs). Even this requirement is waived in many states. When Congress passed Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) in 2023, CBO concluded that it exempted more ABAWDs from the work requirement, including the homeless, veterans, and former foster care youth. Rather than correcting this, the proposed bill would enroll more able-bodied adults, including notifying college students eligible for SNAP (Sec. 4304) and eliminating the option for states to place conditions on past felons to enroll (Sec. 4122).

The proposed bill also exacerbates problems with SNAP benefits. The benefit phase-out assumes that households spend 30 percent of net income on food. Federal guidelines set SNAP gross income limit at 130 percent of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL) and net income limit at 100 percent FPL. SNAP benefit levels are determined after deductions from income, like housing and childcare. The problem comes when too many deductions cause benefit level to remain high when households hit income limits—creating a benefit cliff. Instead of fixing this problem, the proposed bill doubles down by excluding more income (Sec. 4103) and increasing the earned income deduction (Sec. 4104).

Finally, the next Farm Bill should right size the federal-state share of responsibilities. The states administer the program, but federal funds cover 100 percent of benefits and 75 percent of administrative costs. To incentivize state agencies to enact program reform, states should have more skin in the benefit-funding game and more reform authority.

Chairman Thompson is moving a difficult bill in a tough environment. While his proposed Farm Bill makes some steps in the right direction, the overall bill doesn’t meet SNAP’s need for overarching reform to improve beneficiaries’ lives.