Washington — As Congress returns from recess this week, work begins on reconciling the differences between the House and Senate versions of the farm bill, which could mean a clash over work requirements for food stamp recipients. 

The Senate bill that passed late last month does not include the expanded work requirements for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that passed as part of the House version of the bill. 

Roughly 1.2 million fewer people a month could access SNAP benefits, previously known as food stamps, by 2028 as a result of the work requirements proposed by House Republicans' bill, according to the Congressional Budget Office. 

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture committee, said the Senate farm bill handles work requirements the "right way."

"I’m not going to be willing to do something that hurts Michigan children and families," she said in an interview. 

The Senate legislation builds on the previous farm bill by adding eight more states to a program that provides job training to support more people moving into full-time work, Stabenow said. 

The Senate bill would also tighten the integrity of the system in areas where there was "misuse by states in playing games with a bonus program, which we eliminated," she said. 

"We have a very strong, balanced nutrition title and it’s based on fact," Stabenow said. 

"The facts are that with the economy improving, more people are going back to work full time, so we have fewer people needing temporary food help. The budget office says we’re going to save $80 billion over the next 10 years on temporary food assistance."

Current SNAP rules already include work requirements of 20 hours a week for able-bodied adults (without dependents or a disability) between ages of 18 and 49, or those individuals must participate in a qualified job training program. If those requirements aren't met, benefits end after three months. 

The House farm bill would boost the work requirement to 25 hours a week and broaden its scope, so more older people and adults with children age 6 and older would have to meet those requirements.

The legislation includes funding over 10 years for employment and training services, but critics worry it's not enough. 

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said the House work provisions would help "work-capable individuals find success through work to improve their futures."

"We don’t just tell people to go out and get a job — no, we will walk side-by-side with recipients so they can get the training and case management they need to thrive in today’s economy," Conaway said in a statement to The Detroit News.

"The best way out of poverty is through work, and the House farm bill promotes self-sufficiency by investing in work-capable SNAP recipients so everyone has a chance to achieve the American Dream.”

The House bill would also require senior citizens to fill out paperwork every month to get good assistance for the next month, Stabenow said. Under current law, they fill out paperwork every two years. 

"Our bill moves it to every three years for senior citizens, because once you’re on a fixed income, and we know what that is, then there’s no reason to force seniors to churn and fill out paperwork every month in order to be able to eat," she said. 

Stabenow said she is also concerned that the House legislation refocuses more farm subsidies on big Southern crops such as cotton, peanuts and rice, which "moves in the exact opposite direction of the farm bill I wrote five years ago where we made sure that fruit and vegetable growers and others in the Midwest had support."

She also hopes to retain the $1 billion the House cut from the conservation program, which could make it harder for Michigan to continue regional efforts to restore and protect its waters, she said. 

The current farm bill programs expire Sept. 30, and Stabenow is "hopeful" that lawmakers will pass a final bill by then and avoid an extension. 

"I’m pushing to get this done as quickly as possible," Stabenow said. "Right now, our farmers and families need certainty. With everything flowing around all the uncertainty around trade and labor and other things, we can give our farmers certainty by passing a five-year farm bill."

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