Farm Bill Series: Farm Bill Training Program is a Risky Scheme for Montana

As we discussed last week the House Agriculture Committee’s Farm Bill is harmful to families, workers, and Montana’s economy as a whole. The proposed plan cuts $17 billion in SNAP benefits, taking food off of the tables of 2 million Americans (see table below).

Farm Bill shifts benefits to SNAP E&T Program

(Congressional Budget Office 10-year cost estimate)

SNAP benefit cuts -$23.1 billion
SNAP benefit improvements $5.8 billion
New administrative costs and work programs $15.0 billion

 

So where do these dollars end up? Most will be used to address the harsh new work requirements (link) that the bill proposes. Much of this funding will be poured into a small and little-known program called the SNAP Employment and Training (SNAP E&T) Program. Today we will look into why funneling benefits away from families and our economy and instead pouring them into an unproven and underfunded government agency could be a huge problem for Montana.

What is the Employment and Training Program?

SNAP E&T is a training program that offers funding to states to provide employment and training to SNAP participants. The program grants states considerable flexibility in running the program, and they can use it to fund job searches, educational programs, vocational education, or work-related costs like transportation or uniforms. The program, however, is unlikely to be able to ramp up before people lose their benefits. States would have to create massive new reporting and paperwork systems — which will be expensive and hard to navigate for SNAP administrators and participants alike — to track millions of SNAP participants and their hours of employment or participation in work programs every month.

Below we’ll outline why this large-scale proposal to require states to track the work hours of 6 to 7 million SNAP participants each month and offer them job training and education is woefully underfunded and flies in the face of evidence about how to help people get good-paying jobs.

Do we know if SNAP E&T programs are even effective?

Expanding SNAP E&T at the expense of taking away food from SNAP recipients is a risky scheme. First, as we discussed earlier this week, most SNAP recipients who can work, do work. SNAP is designed to help people through temporary periods of difficulty such as the loss of a job. Many SNAP recipients who are out of work will return to work soon without any outside intervention. But taking food assistance away in the meantime could make it harder for families to get back on their feet.

A small subset of the SNAP population might need help accessing jobs, but there is little research into whether or not SNAP E&T is a successful program. The last time it was studied was in 1994 – 24 years ago. In the 2014 Congress appropriated money to study new approaches to SNAP E&T, but the results of those experiments aren’t available for the next few years. Rather than use the results to design sound work policies, this Farm Bill would mandate that all states move now to institute sweeping changes — on an unprecedented scale — that have no evidence to support their effectiveness and are therefore likely to fail.

Could Montana handle an expanded SNAP E&T program?

Rapidly expanding such a small program would be a difficult endeavor for states to undertake. Nationwide, the program currently serves about 700,000 people. The current version of the House bill wants to more than quadruple this amount to 3 million people per month by 2021.

In Montana, the program only now operates in three counties – Yellowstone, Missoula, and Lewis & Clark. Montana would have to create a massive new system – which would likely be expensive – not to mention burdensome for administrators and participants alike. The state would also have to design and implement this new program before the results of the pilot programs Congress have been evaluated to see which elements actually work.

Due to the state’s fiscal crisis and cuts to health and human services, Montana closed 19 office locations across rural Montana that once helped people with their benefits and paperwork. It is difficult to imagine the feasibility of the state even administering a brand-new program with less staff and few offices to serve Montanans. This federal funding for SNAP E&T won’t re-open these offices, and it will be near-impossible to implement any program with the capacity cut as it is now.

Is $17 billion enough to make SNAP E&T successful?

Unfortunately, the proposed Farm Bill doesn’t even come close to providing enough funding for adequate job training. With three million people to serve nationwide, the bill’s $1 billion per year in funding for work programs amounts to just $30 per person per month.

Here’s what an adequate job training program would realistically require:

Service Description Average Per-Person Cost Sufficient Farm Bill Funding to Cover?
Resource Room Visit Use of computers, phones, copiers, materials in job center (no staff assistance) $16 Yes
Structured assessment Self-administered employment assessment without staff assistance $13 Yes
Job Club Group job search assistance (staff led, per session) $38 No
Workshop Structured group session on a specific job such as writing a resume (staff-led, per session) $54 No
Counselor meeting One-on-one appointment, usually lasts an hour $143 No
Skills training Individual Job Training for 12 week $3,490 No
Sources:  Anna Mastri and AnnaMaria McCutcheon, “Costs of Services Provided by the WIA Adult and Dislocated Worker Programs,” Mathematica Policy Research, November 2015; Sheena McConnell et al., “Providing Public Workforce Services to Job Seekers:  15-month Impact Findings in the WIA Adult and Dislocated Worker Program,” Mathematica Policy Research, May 2016.

 

The House Farm Bill falls drastically short in funds to provide employment-assistance activities. Even if the bill were to fund work programs at the same rate the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) does – at $414 per person per month – the funding allotted would only be enough to cover 200,000 work slots nationwide – falling drastically short of the 3 million needed. Tracking the work requirements for millions of SNAP recipients would be an additional cost and come at the expense of people putting food on their family’s tables.

Rather than feeding families, boosting local businesses, and supporting our agricultural economy, this version of the Farm Bill aims to build a massive (yet inadequately funded) program with no evidence to back up its effectiveness.

The House Farm Bill doesn’t support working families, reduce hunger or improve our economy. It’s set up to fail.

If you want to read more about the importance of SNAP in Montana, be sure to check out our latest report on SNAP in Montana: SNAP Helps Grow a Healthy Workforce and Economy.

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