Food stamps: Why SNAP benefit payments could be among first casualties of debt ceiling crisis

Researchers at the University of Virginia say more than one in 10 Virginians receives food stamps. (AP/Eric Risberg) Eric Risberg

Food stamps: Why SNAP benefit payments could be among first casualties of debt ceiling crisis

Rachel Schilke

May 25, 12:04 PM May 25, 12:05 PM

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With the debt default deadline of June 1 swiftly approaching, President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) are facing more pressure to find common ground — with social welfare programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program likely the first to be conceded.

McCarthy has drawn a red line at work requirements, and Biden has indicated that he may be open to some changes as June 1 approaches. While he has stood firm on rejecting work requirement changes for Medicaid, it is possible that the president may take a moderate position on requirements for SNAP and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.


For several years, recipients of SNAP benefits between 18 and 49 years old who were able-bodied have had to work at least 20 hours a week if they did not have dependents. However, McCarthy leads House Republicans in wanting stricter work requirements for older recipients to prove that they work or are looking for work at least part-time to get those benefits.

The Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023, the Republicans’ debt ceiling bill, would increase the age requirement from under 50 to 56 years old. Because of this, 900,000 people in the United States aged 50 to 55 are at risk of losing SNAP, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

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Recipients in the 18-49 cohort who can’t show they are employed at least 20 hours a week are limited to only three months of food stamps within a three-year period. Under the GOP debt limit plan, the number of people who would fall into that group would increase.

Some people are exempt from this rule, including those who live with children, recipients who are physically or mentally unfit for work, people who are pregnant, and anyone else who is determined to qualify for an exemption. However, the GOP’s bill will make it harder for states to provide SNAP benefits to those with unique circumstances.

A Bipartisan Policy Center analysis found that a default on America’s debt could affect federal spending in several ways, including elevating the chance that there will be fewer funds to provide for the Social Security and food stamps programs. However, as the United States has never defaulted on its debt before, it is unclear what the fiscal ramifications of default will have on these social welfare programs.

SNAP benefits are calculated based on household income and size. The recipient’s household income generally must be at or below 130% of the poverty line. In fiscal 2023, the poverty line used to calculate SNAP benefits is $1,920 a month.

An average monthly SNAP benefit for a household of three is $577, with a maximum of $740. An average payment for a household of eight is $1,150, with a maximum of $1,691. Any household higher than eight can be calculated by adding a maximum of $211 per additional person.

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