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Debt Ceiling Agreement Will Increase Hunger & Poverty 

May 30, 2023

On Saturday, a proposed agreement was announced on the federal debt ceiling. While we appreciate the effort to improve the language that was in the House version of the bill, we nevertheless must oppose the provisions in the debt ceiling agreement that would cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or CalFresh in California) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, or CalWORKS in California) that low-income families and older adults rely on to meet their basic needs. 

Decreasing access to SNAP and TANF is a step in the wrong direction, and undermines our work to end hunger and poverty. Rather than placing the burden on those who are already struggling, Congress should pass a clean debt ceiling bill while also strengthening and expanding these essential programs.

These cuts are an attack on the most basic human right—the right to food. They will deepen hunger and poverty at a critical time when hunger is already rising, resulting from the end of Emergency Allotments and other pandemic-era assistance. Statewide, one in five people are experiencing hunger today, with the disproportionate impact being experienced by Black and Latine people. 

SNAP is our most effective tool to fight hunger. At a time when we should be protecting and strengthening the reach and impact of SNAP, we are extremely disappointed that the current debt ceiling agreement will no doubt increase hunger. The bill includes a provision to expand the already punitive and ineffective ABAWD time-limit rule to include people aged 50-54, in addition to limiting the ability of states to protect hungry people from the time-limit via waivers and individual exemptions. Putting a time-limit on food is cruel and hurts people’s ability to find and keep work, and perpetuates structural racism. SNAP is a symptom of poor economic conditions – not a cause.

TANF provides temporary assistance to struggling families, offering them a lifeline during times of financial hardship. The debt ceiling proposes doubling down on TANF’s rigid, punitive work reporting requirements, harming our lowest-income children and families. California still has the highest poverty rate of any state, and California children would suffer most under these changes to the program outlined in the bill. We should be following the research to strengthen TANF by empowering parents to follow the pathways they need for true economic mobility.

Simply put, the proposed cuts to SNAP and TANF would be devastating. Instead, Congress should prioritize strengthening and protecting these critical programs with bills like H.R. 1510 (Lee) to permanently end the SNAP time limit, H.R. 3183 (Gomez) to expand SNAP to college students and H.R. 3037 (Adams) to make SNAP benefits adequate. We call on Congress to prioritize the wellbeing of people and families living on a low-income, and invest in comprehensive, long-term solutions that address the root causes of poverty and inequality. 

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