The leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus said Monday that the GOP's push to impose even harsher work requirements on recipients of federal food aid is "an absolutely terrible idea" that President Joe Biden must reject as a high-stakes standoff over the debt ceiling continues.
Piling more work requirements onto the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—which already has work mandates—is "a nonstarter for many of us across the Democratic caucus," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) toldPolitico after Biden suggested he is open to additional work requirements for federal assistance programs other than Medicaid, noting that he supported such measures as a senator—remarks that Republicans quickly seized on.
But Jayapal responded that "we did not elect Joe Biden of 1986."
"We elected Joe Biden of 2020," she added.
In exchange for any agreement to lift the debt ceiling and avert a catastrophic default, House Republicans are demanding stricter work requirements for SNAP, Medicaid, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which supplanted the more generous Aid to Families With Dependent Children program under the Clinton-era welfare reform law that Biden voted for.
Citing two unnamed Republicans and two Republicans and three other people familiar with the fluid talks, Politicoreported Monday that Democrats "are floating a rough proposal within their ranks that includes potential new restrictions" on TANF.
"But House Republicans, who are aware of the movement, are still demanding further concessions on work requirements for food assistance and believe they have the leverage to force them, possibly before Biden leaves for the G-7 meeting in Japan Wednesday," the outlet added.
Research has consistently shown that work requirements are effective at kicking struggling individuals and families off federal aid programs and leaving people poorer, but not at boosting employment.
As the Center for Public Integrity's Alexia Fernández Campbell wrote earlier this month, "A major study published in February from researchers at the University of Rochester, the University of California, Berkeley, Harvard, and the University of Maryland found that SNAP work requirements did not boost employment or income in Virginia."
"On the contrary," Campbell wrote, "they led more than half of adults in the program to lose food aid."
In a letter to Biden late last week, members of the House Democratic Caucus Poverty Task Force stressed that "decades of research and real-world experience show that taking basic assistance away from people who do not meet rigid work-reporting requirements does not improve employment."
"These GOP proposals would have devastating impacts in our communities," the lawmakers wrote.
"I didn't come here to take food away from hungry kids, and that's exactly what this proposal would do."
Prominent Democratic senators have also spoken out against any agreement that weakens safety net programs and harms vulnerable families, adding to the outrage that House Democrats and progressive advocates have expressed over the GOP's work requirement proposals and the White House's apparent willingness to entertain them.
"I didn't come here to take food away from hungry kids, and that's exactly what this proposal would do; a proposal that would make Scrooge blush," Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) said in a statement Monday.
"I've never met a SNAP recipient who aspires to stay on SNAP for life," Fetterman added. "Let's end the games, pay our bills, and get on with the important work people sent us here to do."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), for her part, said Monday that she is "very concerned about any efforts to just tangle aid recipients in red tape in the hope that they will be choked to death rather than get the help they need."
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has estimated that House Republicans' work requirement proposals could slash federal nutrition assistance for millions of children, compounding the nation's worsening hunger crisis. In recent weeks, food banks across the U.S. have seen a surge in demand following the recent expiration of pandemic relief.
With Biden set to meet congressional leaders at the White House again on Tuesday, The Wall Street Journalreported that recent staff-level talks have "centered on several subjects on which Democrats and Republicans may be able to find agreement," a list that apparently includes "clawing back unspent Covid-19 funds, speeding up the permitting process for energy projects, capping spending, and imposing stricter work requirements on some government programs."
According toThe Washington Post, the White House "recently gave Republican congressional leadership a list of proposals to reduce the deficit by closing tax loopholes"—proposals that Republican negotiators rejected.
"If the White House's position on the budget is that closing tax loopholes on the wealthy and corporations is preferable to kicking a bunch of families in the teeth with work requirements, sure seems like now would be a great time to let the public know that," Lindsay Owens, executive director of the Groundwork Collaborative, wrote in response to the Post's story.
On Monday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters that he "doesn't see any real movement on anything" and reiterated that work requirements for key federal aid programs must be part of any debt ceiling deal.
Progressives are urging Biden to stick to his earlier pledge to only accept a clean debt ceiling increase, arguing that any spending concessions would reward House Republicans for taking the global economy hostage.
"I don't think we should normalize such destructive tactics," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) toldAxios on Monday, adding that Biden can "expect pushback on nearly any significant concession."
"It's profoundly destructive and it also threatens to weaken the president," the New York Democrat added.