WASHINGTON — More people would be able to get food assistance from the federal government under the House GOP’s proposed $1.5 trillion debt limit bill, a prospect likely to cheer Democrats but one that may also hinder the bill’s prospects.
The Congressional Budget Office, the official nonpartisan scorekeeper for Capitol Hill, said the changes proposed in the bill — expanding the age range for work requirements under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program but also increasing eligibility for veterans and the unhoused — almost offset each other.
The original Republican demand had been for work requirements reducing SNAP enrollment by 275,000 per month, but the changes won by the White House, exempting homeless people and veterans, would result in a slight net increase in enrollment.
“During the 2025–2030 period, when the group of people up to the age of 54 would be subject to the work requirement and the new exclusions were in effect, approximately 78,000 people would gain benefits in an average month, on net (an increase of about 0.2 percent in the total number of people receiving SNAP benefits),” the CBO said.
The $6.5 billion saved by the expanded work requirements would be more than offset by $6.8 billion in new spending on benefits for veterans and the homeless, the CBO found.
House Republican support for the bill, which had already seen cracks since the deal was announced late Saturday, may fracture further. The bill’s opponents had said before the CBO score was even announced that it did not save enough money for them, and they were skeptical of the new proposed exemptions to the work requirement.
“They put exclusions for different categories [of people],” Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) told HuffPost on Tuesday before the CBO score came out. “That doesn’t make sense.”
“The work requirements are so minor,” Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) told HuffPost. “When you have a temporary increase in age but yet you have permanent increases in eligibility, [that] could very well go backwards for us in what SNAP is going to end up costing.”
Clyde also questioned whether “illegal aliens” would win benefits as a result of the changes.
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Norman and Clyde are members of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, several of whom said Tuesday they would oppose the bill because it didn’t do enough to reduce spending. Their opposition means House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will need to pass the bill with Democratic support — and the CBO analysis could win more Democratic votes for the legislation.
Even though the White House said over the weekend that it expected the new exemptions to offset the impact of the work requirements, some liberal lawmakers worried about how the changes would impact food assistance.
“Even with the exemptions, it’s going to mean people have to go through a process, more bureaucratic red tape, to determine whether or not they qualify for those exemptions,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Tuesday before the CBO score came out.
Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.), chair of the House committee that oversees nutrition assistance, said at a Tuesday night news conference that the CBO had “double counted” certain people in the new eligibility categories, resulting in an exaggerated cost estimate.
“Quite frankly, CBO’s got their numbers wrong,” Thompson said.
The CBO also said the final bill would save far less than the bill that House Republicans pushed through at the end of April. That bill was scored as reducing the deficit by a hefty $4.8 trillion over 11 years, with more than $3 trillion of that savings coming from caps on annual funding to federal agencies and programs.
Instead, the CBO said the deal negotiated with the White House would save only $1.5 trillion through 2033, with $1.3 trillion of that coming from annual spending caps for 2024 and 2025. While there are targets for annual spending after that, the CBO projected outlays would grow at the pace of inflation, levels that would be higher than the non-binding targets.
While Republicans early in the negotiation process said they wanted spending cuts equal to or larger than the new higher debt limit, the final bill’s savings at $1.5 trillion would be below the approximately $3 trillion of headroom the Biden administration is projected to need to get to January 2025.