Joe Biden agrees to stricter labor requirements for food aid program


WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden agreed to tighten labor requirements for some state safety-net programs and made a key concession to House Republicans in exchange for their support for raising the debt ceiling for two years.

The tentative agreement, reached Saturday night between Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-California), would also leave 2024 spending unchanged and set caps for 2025, which Republican leaders are touting as big bargaining gains.

The deal ignores the Republican’s most controversial “work requirement” proposal, which would have denied Medicaid health coverage to unemployed adults without dependents, many of whom received coverage thanks to the Affordable Care Act. For most of its history, Medicaid had no limited benefits based on employment.

But the agreement includes a version of the Republican proposal to tighten existing work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides food benefits to more than 20 million homes, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.

Under current SNAP rules, childless, able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 49 can only receive benefits for three months unless they work, volunteer, or attend a 20-hour-week training program.

The Biden-McCarthy deal would raise the age limit for the SNAP working rule to 54, a key Republican demand.

But the accord exempts veterans and the homeless from the labor force entirely — a big and unexpected change that would likely lessen the impact of the higher age limit. The Congressional Budget Office said the original Republican proposal would have reduced SNAP enrollments by 275,000. In a separate analysis of SNAP’s existing job requirements, the CBO said many people who would lose their benefits were homeless.

The compromise will also temporarily make the adjustments to labor requirements and override them in 2030, marking another victory for Biden.

But the deal concedes to Republicans on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which provides cash benefits to fewer than a million households. Republicans wanted TANF, the program most commonly referred to as “welfare assistance,” to require “work activities” from a higher percentage of benefit-receiving families. The agreement contains a modified version of the GOP requirement; It is not clear how many families would be affected.

Hard-liner Conservative Republicans snubbed the deal on Sunday, complaining that it includes “virtually no cuts” they had initially sought and that it spares key Biden initiatives, including increased funding for the IRS and its program to Debt relief for student loans.

Meanwhile, the progressives reacted much more cautiously to the deal. House Democrats are expected to be briefed on the tentative agreement by the White House later Sunday.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said she would withhold judgment on the agreement until she sees the text of the law, which often comes as a surprise because details were omitted from an originally negotiated framework.

“I’m not happy with some things I’m hearing about, but they’re not reducing the deficit or reducing spending,” Jayapal said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, denying claims by the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives The agreement provided for significant spending cuts.

Jayapal said it’s “really unfortunate that the president opened the door to stricter labor requirements for food aid programs,” but added, “Maybe because of the exceptions, it’ll really be okay, I don’t know.”

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