DECATUR — U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis said he will continue to push for job training requirements for food stamp recipients as members of the House and Senate prepare to enter negotiations to hash out the latest version of the farm bill.
Davis, of Taylorville, is one of 29 Republicans named to the bipartisan committee that will put together a final version of the agriculture and nutrition bill. The key sticking point will be job training requirements, which was in the version approved by the House but not in the version passed out of the Senate.
The provision requires able-bodied adults aged 18-59 to work or participate in job training for 20 hours a week in order to receive benefits that average about $450 a month for a family of four through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Stricter rules apply to able-bodied adults 18-49, who are subject to a three-month limit of benefits unless they meet a work or job training requirement of 80 hours per month.
During an event Wednesday morning in Decatur, Davis said now is the perfect time to push for the change, saying the positive economic trend means more jobs than ever are available.
“If we do not implement education and training requirements now, and if we do not invest in families stuck in poverty now, then when will we?” he asked.
The House bill requires each state to offer a SNAP Employment and Training slot to every eligible participant, and takes funding for those programs from its current level of $90 million a year to $250 million in fiscal year 2020 and $1 billion in each subsequent fiscal year.
Davis declined to say what he would be willing to negotiate on in the bill, saying he did not want to discuss hypothetical scenarios before talks begin.
The congressman also took time to address some of the concerns raised about the changes that would affect people receiving SNAP benefits. Several reports from nonprofit think tanks issued in recent months have said that such a change would cause over a million people to lose their benefits and that $1 billion was an insufficient amount to cover the cost of employment and training programs across the country. Democrats have also opposed the work requirements, saying they will lead to more food insecurity.
Davis said when you consider the number of people in the SNAP program, which the Department of Agriculture said was at more than 42 million last year, that $1 billion should be more than enough to cover their costs.
“That is a lot of money for the families on food stamps that this will apply to,” Davis said. “A billion dollars a year is a tremendous investment.”
He also dismissed the idea the government would be kicking people off the program, saying that instead most able-bodied people would benefit from the training and no longer need assistance because they would have good-paying jobs.
It is possible the joint House-Senate version of the farm bill will be unveiled in early September. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he would like to see a farm bill conference report ready after Labor Day, and a final bill ready to be signed by President Donald Trump by the end of the month.
Davis made the comments during his visit to the Macon County Senior Center for a Senior Technology Fair, which aims to connect seniors with digital resources, such as apps for their smartphones or tablets, or websites that let them check their Medicare or Social Security.
Wednesday was among a number of such events that Davis has held in the district. He said he has heard firsthand from seniors that they want to learn how to use technology.
“We want to continue to provide access to seniors in one location where they can get all their questions answered,” he said.
Leslie Stanberry, executive director of the senior center, said she was pleased with the turnout of more than 30 seniors who attended the event. As more seniors purchase smartphones, tablets and computers, lessons about how to use those devices are becoming more crucial than ever, she said.
“We always joke that we need a 15-year-old on staff to take care of our computers,” she said with a laugh. “Technology is something that seniors are curious about, and it makes a lot of people's lives a lot easier if they knew what they could do on their phones and their computers.”
Judy Conerty, 80, who was sitting beside Stanberry during the event, said there is one specific reason she wants to become more adept at using her smartphone.
“I need my McDonalds app on my phone because I go there and get a caramel frappe all the time,” she said.