The congressional farm bill, the federal policy on agriculture and food programs, comes up for reauthorization every five years. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps, is included in this omnibus legislation. SNAP provides food assistance for more than 40 million low income people, or one in eight Americans. Despite providing a modest benefit of $1.40 per person per meal, SNAP helps put food on the table, and has long-term benefits for children’s health and educational attainment.
SNAP is the country’s most effective anti-poverty program, lifting nearly 8.4 million people out of poverty, including 3.8 million children in 2015. SNAP also has one of the most rigorous quality control systems of any public benefit program.
In the past, with bipartisan support, farm bills that protected the SNAP program were reauthorized. However, in the past few years, the Republican House is determined to take away this program from many in need, along with cutting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. This past session the House Republicans passed a bill without Democratic support that will reduce or eliminate benefits for more than 1 million households, which include 2 million people.
The Republican House is trying to spin this to say they want to give SNAP recipients the dignity of work. However, they know full well that most SNAP recipients work one to two jobs, many part time with no guaranteed hours. They are imposing unworkable requirements that will ultimately impact women, children, caregivers, people with disabilities and others. It would also potentially hurt 1.5 million low income veterans struggling to find work.
Fortunately, the Senate created a bipartisan bill that keeps the integrity of SNAP. The Senate Agriculture Committee has always understood the importance of this program and understands that without food on the table, it is impossible for anyone to be successful.
The Senate approach affirms SNAP’s importance for struggling households that can not afford a basic diet without the benefits of the program. The Senate’s version would also expand the 2014 farm bills pilot program to test promising approaches to new training and other employment-related activities. This is the thoughtful approach to helping SNAP recipients gain dignity through work.
The bill moved into conference committee and the first meeting was held on Sept. 5. However, in conference the two houses realized they were further apart than they realized. Fortunately, the Senate has stood strong and would not compromise in hurting the hungry. Hunger affects children in every community in the United States.
Only time will tell what the outcome is. However, politics has no place when it comes to feeding the hungry.
Susan Zimet is executive director of Hunger Action Network of New York State.
Published in the Buffalo News
October 8, 2018