California Republican Rep. Tom McClintock doesn't believe his party's controversial plan to stiffen work requirements for food stamp recipients goes far enough.
But his proposal to require even more people to work for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits was too strict even for most of his fellow Republicans.
McClintock's amendment to House Republicans' farm bill failed in a vote Thursday night, 83 to 330 (there are 235 Republicans in the House). It could enlarge the target that Democrats have already placed on McClintock's back in this year's election.
The farm bill, which stalled on Friday but could come up again, would set new, stricter requirements on SNAP benefits, which provide nutrition assistance to low-income families. That's prompted opposition from House Democrats and some moderate Republicans.
The requirements in existing law require 20 hours per week of work or a work program, but only apply to healthy adults without dependents between 18 and 49 years old. Current language in the farm bill would expand that to age 59.
McClintock's failed amendment sought to also narrow the exception from people with children under six years old to only those with children under three years old. And his amendment would have significantly limited the number of waivers that can be granted in areas with high unemployment and required that each participant is verified to legally work in the U.S.
"This amendment deletes the waiver for an important reason: where there is high unemployment, there is all the more reason to encourage job training and job searching in order to equip recipients to compete in tighter job markets," McClintock said on the House floor.
He said his amendment would have increased from 20 percent to 70 percent the percentage of able-bodied adults in SNAP who would be required to comply with the work requirements in the bill.
However, the amendment also would have expanded benefits for married people under SNAP, giving each member of a married couple the same benefits as single individuals.
California runs the largest SNAP program in the country, known as CalFresh . According to the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, the state received more than $6.7 billion in federal SNAP benefits in fiscal year 2017, or nearly 11 percent of the program's total national spending. More than half of households who received CalFresh benefits had children.
Michael Weston, spokesman for the California Department of Social Services, said the work training program mandated by the current language in the farm bill would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars. The McClintock amendment would only have driven those costs higher.
The proposal is consistent with McClintock's fiscally conservative philosophy and push for smaller government. And it won the backing of Heritage Action for America, the advocacy arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, which urged Republicans to vote for it.
The issue of food stamps could surface as McClintock defends his seat in 2018 against two well-funded challengers – Democrats Jessica Morse and Regina Bateson, who are vying for a top two finish in the June 5 primary. Morse ended March with more campaign cash than the GOP incumbent. And local Democratic activists have been organizing in the district for over a year. They grabbed headlines in early 2017 when they mobbed the congressman's town halls to protest his vote to unravel Obamacare.
Those dynamics have prompted national political handicappers to move McClintock's race from "safe" to competitive in recent months.
Democrats still face a steep climb to unseat the veteran GOP legislator, however. The district, which includes the Sacramento suburbs of Roseville and El Dorado Hills, skews Republican. McClintock won reelection in 2016 with nearly 63 percent, while President Donald Trump won a more narrow victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.