Debt Ceiling Deal Includes New Work Requirements for Food Stamps (2023)

Politics|Debt Ceiling Deal Includes New Work Requirements for Food Stamps


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The agreement will place additional work requirements on older Americans to receive food assistance, but will remove those barriers for veterans and homeless adults.

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Debt Ceiling Deal Includes New Work Requirements for Food Stamps (1)

By Linda Qiu

Reporting from Washington

One of the most contentious issues surrounding talks over raising the debt limit has been whether the Biden administration would agree to stricter work requirements for people seeking food stamps and other safety net assistance.

The deal reached this weekend includes something of a compromise: It increases work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and cash welfare but does not alter requirements for Medicaid. It also expands food stamp access for veterans, homeless people and young adults transitioning out of the foster care system.

Whether that agreement will pass muster with progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans remains to be seen.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy is championing inclusion of work requirements as a win, but more conservative members have criticized the compromise as not going far enough. Representative Chip Roy, Republican of Texas, called the work requirements “weak” while Representative Dan Bishop, Republican of North Carolina, characterized the deal as a “betrayal.”

Biden administration officials have highlighted the expanded access for veterans as a victory. But liberal Democrats and activists for the poor are decrying the changes as onerous and counterproductive, pointing to research showing that existing requirements have little impact on employment.

Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington, called the work requirement provisions “absolutely terrible policy” on CNN on Sunday, and said she would need to examine the text of the agreement more closely before deciding whether to vote for passage.

Asked on Monday about the concerns raised by Ms. Jayapal and other progressive Democrats, President Biden said he had not “had a chance to speak to her yet” but implored critics to “talk to me.”

It is unclear how the modifications would affect the overall number of food stamp beneficiaries or how much money, if any, it would save the federal government. The White House has said the changes will not significantly alter the number of people subject to requirements, suggesting a muted impact on government spending.

As part of the agreement, so-called able-bodied adults who are 54 and younger and do not have children must work or participate in a training program for at least 80 hours a month to receive food stamps for extended periods of time. Otherwise, they can receive benefits for only three months over a three-year period. Current work requirements apply to adults ages 49 and younger.

The agreement also exempted veterans, homeless people and young adults transitioning from foster care from those work requirements. Under current law, only those unable to work because of a physical or mental disability or pregnancy are exempt.

The debt ceiling deal also requires the Agriculture Department to make public the applications that states submit to waive work requirements for areas with high unemployment, and reduces the share of people a state can exempt to 8 percent of total beneficiaries from 12 percent.

Anti-poverty advocates praised the additional exemptions but lamented the expansion of work restrictions as well as the decision to tie safety net programs to the need to raise the nation’s debt limit.

“Making improvements for some groups is positive, but it doesn’t justify putting harmful requirements that are going to hurt older adults in place, ” said Sharon Parrott, the president of the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“Avoiding a debt limit default will spare the country from an economic catastrophe, but it is simply wrong that the compromise agreement forces older Americans with low incomes to pay such a heavy price,” Eric Mitchell, the executive director of the nonprofit group Alliance to End Hunger, said in a statement. He said the expansion of work requirements “will cause more older Americans to needlessly suffer from hunger and poverty.”

About 42.5 million people received SNAP benefits in February, compared with about 36.9 million in February 2020, the month before the Covid-19 outbreak in the United States. Food stamp recipients receive an estimated $169 in monthly benefits on average, according to the Agriculture Department, which administers the program.

Increasing the age for work requirements will likely reduce the number of beneficiaries. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that more stringent changes proposed in a House Republican bill in April — which would have also increased the age limit to 55 and further restricted state waivers without any new exemptions — would have pushed about 275,000 people off food stamps and reduced benefits for another 19,000 people.

But the new exemptions may also add people to food stamp rolls. A 2021 study from the Urban Institute estimated that adults subject to the work requirements were more likely to be homeless than other SNAP beneficiaries. Waiving work requirements could also increase the number of veterans who use food stamps from the current level of 1.1 million.

The White House has estimated those exemptions would likely offset the increased age, leaving the number of adults subject to the work requirements unchanged.

But Ms. Parrott argued that focusing the net impact of the agreement on SNAP participation ignores the harm the requirements will have on older adults, calling such calculations a “low bar” for lawmakers to clear.

“The reality is that this is hurting a group of people that is very disadvantaged, and it isn’t as though we had to do that in order to do the more positive policies,” she said.

It is also unclear just how much of a budgetary impact these changes will have. The C.B.O. had estimated that the more restrictive changes to food stamps in the House Republican bill would have reduced federal deficits by about $11 billion over a decade. The agreement’s modifications will likely make a smaller dent in deficits.

In addition to changes to food stamps, the debt ceiling deal modifies work requirements for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which provides cash assistance to households with children.

To receive federal funding for the program under current law, states must prove that a certain percentage of adults in families receiving benefits are working, attending work training or participating in other approved “work activities.”

The agreement changes how states calculate those work participation rates and will make it more difficult for states to exempt families from the requirements, said Katherine Hempstead, a senior policy adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropic organization. But the agreement also created a small pilot program for states to test alternative models.

“The research is clear on the ineffectiveness of work requirements and the hardships they cause for people that depend on the social safety net,” Ms. Hempstead said, adding that nonetheless, “this agreement avoids some of the worst outcomes.”

Linda Qiu is a fact-check reporter, based in Washington. She came to The Times in 2017 from the fact-checking service PolitiFact. @ylindaqiu

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What was the debt ceiling deal? ›

The agreement suspends the debt ceiling, the spending limit set by Congress which determines how much money the government can borrow, until 1 January 2025. The legislation would result in $1.5tn in savings over a decade, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said on Tuesday.

What is in the new debt ceiling bill? ›

The bill would defer the federal debt limit for two years — allowing the government to borrow unlimited sums as necessary to pay its obligations — while imposing two years of spending caps and a string of policy changes that Republicans demanded in exchange for allowing the country to avoid a disastrous default.

What is the debt ceiling bill mean? ›

In the United States, the debt ceiling or debt limit is a legislative limit on the amount of national debt that can be incurred by the U.S. Treasury, thus limiting how much money the federal government may pay by borrowing more money, on the debt it already borrowed.

Has the debt ceiling bill been passed? ›

Here's what happens next. The faucets at the US Department of the Treasury are set to turn back on after nearly five months of frozen pipes. In a vote on Thursday evening, the Senate approved a measure to suspend the nation's debt limit through January 1, 2025.

Did the Senate pass the debt limit bill? ›

The Senate passed a bill late Thursday evening to suspend the nation's debt limit through January 1, 2025, averting a first-ever US default just days ahead of the deadline.

Who did not vote for debt ceiling? ›

Who voted against the debt ceiling bill?
Democrats 🔵Republicans 🔴
Rosa DeLauro, ConnecticutJohn Carter, Texas
Mark DeSaulnier, CaliforniaBen Cline, Virginia
Adriano Espaillat, New YorkMichael Cloud, Texas
Jesús "Chuy" García, IllinoisAndrew Clyde, Georgia
12 more rows
19 hours ago

Who owns the most US debt? ›

Domestic Holders of Federal Debt

The Federal Reserve, which purchases and sells Treasury securities as a means to influence federal interest rates and the nation's money supply, is the largest holder of such debt.

Who does the US government borrow money from? ›

The federal government borrows money from the public by issuing securities—bills, notes, and bonds—through the Treasury. Treasury securities are attractive to investors because they are: Backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government.

Has Biden signed the debt ceiling bill yet? ›

The Senate approved the debt measure Thursday night on a 63-to-36 vote, allowing Biden just days to sign it before Monday, when the government would no longer be able to pay all of its bills without borrowing more. The deal, which cleared the House 314 to 117 on Wednesday, suspends the debt ceiling until January 2025.

Who does the US government owe the majority of the debt to? ›

Which countries hold the most US debt? Over the past 20 years, Japan and China have owned more US Treasuries than any other foreign nation. Between 2000 and 2022, Japan grew from owning $534 billion to just over $1 trillion, while China's ownership grew from $101 billion to $855 billion.

How much debt does the US government have per person? ›

Basic Info. US Public Debt Per Capita is at a current level of 93.95K, up from 92.61K last month and up from 88.97K one year ago. This is a change of 1.45% from last month and 5.60% from one year ago.

Do debt holders not have voting rights? ›

​Voting rights

Equity shareholders are entitled to voting rights whereas debt securities do not hold such rights.

Which senators voted against debt ceiling 2023? ›

36 senators oppose debt ceiling legislation
  • Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming.
  • Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.
  • Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana.
  • Sen. Katie Britt of Alabama.
  • Sen. Ted Budd of North Carolina.
  • Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.
  • Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
  • Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho.
1 day ago

Is China in debt to the US? ›

China and Japan are the largest foreign investors in American government debt. Together they own $2 trillion — more than a quarter — of the $7.6 trillion in US Treasury securities held by foreign countries.

Is China in a debt crisis? ›

China's debt is nearly 44% of its GDP and its local governments owe nearly $5.14 trillion. With the economic slowdown and collapse of land sales revenue, provinces and local governments in China are facing an embarrassing situation.

Which country has no debt? ›

The 20 countries with the lowest national debt in 2022 in relation to gross domestic product (GDP)
CharacteristicNational debt in relation to GDP
Macao SAR0%
Brunei Darussalam2.06%
Hong Kong SAR4.26%
9 more rows
May 11, 2023

What countries owe America money? ›

Debts and Debtors of the US Government
Country NameValue of Holdings (Billions of $)
Saudi Arabia102.8
South Korea93.2
31 more rows

Why is the US in so much debt? ›

The debt stems from the federal government spending more than it collects in revenue, which results in an annual deficit. The debt is an accumulation of those deficits. In the last 50 years, the government has only run a surplus five times, most recently in fiscal year 2001, according to the Treasury Department.

Did the Senate vote on the debt ceiling bill? ›

The Senate voted late Thursday on a bill to suspend the country's debt limit through January 1, 2025 following weeks of contentious negotiations on the legislative deal between the White House and Republicans.

Is the Senate debate on bills limited? ›

The Senate tradition of unlimited debate has allowed for the use of the filibuster, a loosely defined term for action designed to prolong debate and delay or prevent a vote on a bill, resolution, amendment, or other debatable question.


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