By Joyce Rothermel
The current Farm Bill expires on September 30, 2018. On April 18, 2018 the House Agriculture Committee passed H.R.2, Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, out of committee along a party-line vote. Advocates believed this highly partisan legislation would have had devastating effects on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), one of our nation’s most effective safety-net programs for food security.
They urged Representatives to vote “no” on the bill. Sr. Simone Campbell, one of the most outspoken critics of the proposed bill, said, “Speaker Ryan and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway should be ashamed of their draconian proposal.” The House Republican leadership brought H.R.2 to the floor for a vote and on May 18 the House of Representatives defeated it by a vote of 198 – 213. A temporary victory for people in need on the road to the final reauthorization of the Farm Bill. Now, Congress has a chance to return to bipartisan Farm Bill negotiations that will hopefully reduce food insecurity and not increase it.
Why was H.R. 2 so bad? The bill rewrote the eligibility requirements for the Supplemental Food Assistance Program (SNAP), which would drop more than two million Americans from the program. It would include parents raising children and people with disabilities. This partisan and punitive measure broke with the long history of bipartisan commitment to alleviating hunger as a matter of basic human dignity.
H.R. 2 cut SNAP benefits by more than $20 billion over 10 years. Under one provision, a person who doesn’t meet work requirements within a month of receiving SNAP benefits would have been dropped from the program for a year. Most people on SNAP who are physically able to work already do. Even among people receiving SNAP who already work, more than 25% of them would fail to meet the proposed new requirements to remain in the program.
Children would be put at risk. The expanded work requirements applied to parents with children 6 and up. If these parents lose food assistance, children would come home to empty shelves and refrigerators.
Encouraging work and responsibility are important goals, but the changes proposed were aggressive and onerous. Many who are not currently working often struggle to find jobs in an economy where even low-wage, temporary work without benefits can be difficult to find. An economy of exclusion and inequality can present systemic barriers to employment.
Programs like SNAP are success stories. SNAP helps one in eight Americans afford a basic diet. Most recipients are children, seniors, and people with disabilities. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the modest benefit, averaging about $1.40 per person for each meal, has great impact that keeps people out of hunger and healthier.
In the Senate process, the Senate Agriculture Committee is expected to move its version of the Farm Bill later this spring. PA Senator Bob Casey serves on this Committee and is working closely with advocates like Bread for the World to make positive changes to the food security programs covered in the Farm Bill both internationally and domestically.
SW PA Bread for the World Team, the Gr. Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and Just Harvest are among those advocating for improvements to the SNAP program and are meeting with SW PA Congressional Representatives, seeking their support for a much better bill than H.R. 2.
Members from the SW PA Bread Team are taking this message to Washington, D.C. on June 11-12 for the annual Bread for the World Lobby Days. Meetings have been scheduled with Rep. Mike Doyle, Rep. Keith Rothfus, Rep. Conor Lamb, Senator Toomey and Senator Casey. Transportation is being provided. Those who would like more information and/or to participate in local meetings or attend the Bread Lobby Days in D.C., call Myra Mann at 412-882-6252 or me at 412-780-5118. Further information is available at http://www.bread.org.
Voters unable to advocate in person are encouraged to express their concerns through personal letters, emails, and phone calls to Congress. To find updated sample letters on these very important issues, go to http://www.bread.org/activist.
Joyce Rothermel is Co-Chair of the SW PA Bread for the World Team