A bill that would have punished the poor and cut costs at their expense has been avoided, temporarily, with the defeat on May 18 of H.R. 2, the House version of the U.S. Farm Bill. That $500 billion “food and farm bill” called for even stricter work requirements than currently exist and threatened to eliminate 2 million adults from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). We can and must do better to ensure that our neighbors have enough nutritious food to eat. The U.S. Senate plans to unwrap its version of the Farm Bill soon. Now is the time to learn more about the proposed legislation and respond through prayer, action and advocacy.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy institute, describes SNAP as “the nation’s most important anti-hunger program.” It reached 42 million people nationwide in 2017 (1 in 8 or 13 percent of the U.S. population). Among those 42 million are 366,000 Iowans (1 in 9 or 12 percent of the state’s population).
SNAP accounts for nearly 80 percent of the five-year farm bill, which is set to expire at the end of September. With Congress having approved a massive tax cut bill earlier this year, efforts are now underway to try to pay for it. Making it harder for otherwise qualifying adults to receive SNAP benefits demonstrates a lack of compassion and could result in our government being penny wise and pound foolish.
Under existing law, “with certain exceptions, SNAP beneficiaries who are able-bodied adults between 16 and 60 years of age must register for work, accept an offer of suitable work and take part in an employment training program to which they will be referred by the SNAP office,” the USDA Food and Nutrition Service states (www.fns.usda.gov). With few exceptions, those able-bodied 18- to 50-year-olds who do not have children and are not pregnant can receive SNAP benefits for just three months in a three-year period unless they are working or participating in a work or workfare program.
The failed House bill would have imposed on states “substantial administrative costs” to comply with SNAP’s already strict work requirements, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported. The bill would have reversed “15 years of efforts by federal policymakers and states to make access to the program easier for working families that are juggling work and family obligations.” Improvement of employment outcomes, the ostensible goal of the bill, would not happen, the institute concluded.
Last month, two bishops representing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with several leaders of Catholic nonprofits, urged Congress to protect and strengthen SNAP. They called for “maintaining eligibility, improving outreach, streamlining enrollment and including case management in efforts to align state employment and training activities to improve access to living wage jobs” (April 18, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/yan3sw9q).
Improving and streamlining state workforce programs were good objectives, but the Catholic leaders were concerned by the bill’s apparent lack of “sufficient investment to meet the additional demand for meaningful job training and skill building that will be generated by the new requirements.”
The Catholic leaders expressed concerns and proposals pertaining to other aspects of the Farm Bill, including subsidies for farmers, conservation measures and rural development. These issues will be addressed in future editorials.
• In the meantime, become acquainted with SNAP — what it is, how it works and who it helps. Visit the USDA Food and Nutrition Services (www.fns.usda.gov) to get the basic facts. Also visit the USCCB website (https://tinyurl.com/yan3sw9q) for a broad, pastoral perspective about the Farm Bill: Principles and Priorities. The Congressional Research Service provides a readable synopsis of the Farm Bill (www.crs.gov) and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (www.cbpp.org) offers insights intended to help inform debates and achieve better policy outcomes.
• After reading up on SNAP and the Farm Bill, contact Senators Chuck Grassley (www.grassley.senate.gov) and Joni Ernst (www.ernst.senate.gov) to support a Farm Bill that serves the common good and makes sure that the hungriest among us have their basic needs met first.
• Support your area food banks, pantries and meal sites. Ask your parish leaders to identify pantries and meal sites in your community. Visit riverbendfoodbank.org for ideas.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor