In my 36 years of food banking, communities across Northwest North Carolina have shown incredible support for our mission. From our donors to our volunteers to our elected officials, that support has come from people from all walks of life, from all faith backgrounds, and has crossed partisan lines to create a universal mandate: all people deserve to eat.
It is disheartening that the House Agriculture Committee ignored this mandate as well as the testimony of over 60 experts, program participants and government officials who testified to the importance and effectiveness of SNAP food assistance.
The proposals put forth by this committee for the 2018 Farm Bill are punitive and harsh and would, with certainty, increase food insecurity among children, seniors, veterans and working poor families. Most importantly, the Committee’s proposals do not uphold the compassionate values that I have come to witness throughout my tenure at Second Harvest–values that I believe define our nation at its core.
Instead of relying on the knowledge of those who are deeply engaged in this work–whether that be policy experts, food bankers, pantry volunteers, or people who are facing hunger themselves–the proposed Farm Bill H.R. 2 relies on persistent stereotypes that are not only false, but are a disservice to creating impactful policy and get in the way of making real change.
Besides harmful financial cuts to the SNAP program itself, the focus of proposed changes is around work requirements, perpetuating the falsehood that people who receive SNAP are living “on the dole.” The bill ignores that the majority of people receiving nutritional support through SNAP are children, seniors and people with disabilities–people too young, too old, or physically unable to work.
The fact is that most people who can work, do work and are working while receiving SNAP.
After all, SNAP already has work requirements. With few exceptions, working or being enrolled in a training program is already required in order to receive assistance. Currently, adults who do not have children must be in work or training programs within three months of applying for SNAP benefits or they will lose access to SNAP.
The Committee’s proposed changes to work requirements are short-sighted and do not reflect the reality of our current economy. We know, for example, that a mother of a school-aged child who loses her job is likely to experience 9.6 weeks (a median calculation) or more of unemployment before finding a new job. Under the proposed Farm Bill, if she exceeds a one-month time limit for finding work, she’ll face punitive sanctions barring her from receiving SNAP. If she does find work, she’ll have to hope that her employer keeps her hours above the minimum threshold or again, she will be barred from receiving help through SNAP.
The proposed legislation would provide an estimated $30 per person, per month for employment training. This is not enough to create the opportunity necessary for North Carolinians to regain their footing and achieve self-sufficiency–however, consistent, reliable access to healthy and nutritious food through SNAP does stabilize working poor families and would protect children from the consequences of hunger.
Working in concert with Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC and our network of local partner food assistance organizations, SNAP plays a critical and necessary role in combating food insecurity and helping people through challenging times. People must be able to feed their families in order to get back on their feet. For every 12 meals provided through the SNAP program, our nation’s food banks can provide one. We simply cannot make up for this difference.
It is time to tell our members of Congress that we want real, lasting change for the children, seniors and families who are struggling in our communities. We want to see improvements to SNAP that are based on the facts, evidence, and realities of our communities. We want to see true solutions–such as employment at livable wages that would free families from poverty and create opportunity not only in the immediate term but for generations to come.
It is time to tell Congress that we want our national values to be upheld and, with a chorus of voices from Northwest North Carolina, remind them that we believe that all people deserve to eat.
Congress needs to vote NO on this proposed Farm Bill. I have voiced my concerns to our congressional delegation. I ask you to join with me in doing the same.