The 2018 Farm Bill Will Disproportionately Harm Single Mothers
U.S. House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) recently released a draft of what is known inside the beltway as the Farm Bill—a massive piece of legislation that, among other things, establishes both policy and funding for the cornerstone of our nation’s nutrition safety net, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or the food stamps program. Unfortunately, Chairman Conaway’s “Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018” gets the policy wrong—because it ignores basic truths about who in America struggles with hunger and why.
What’s drawn the most attention so far is the expanded set of adults that will have to meet stringent work requirements in order to qualify for SNAP. (Nevermind that the vast majority of SNAP recipients who can work, do so—often at multiple jobs—but simply do not earn enough to feed themselves and their family.) What has not been made clear, either by Chairman Conaway or the current public discourse, is that for the first time, unemployed parents of children over the age of six will have a month to find work or enter a training program, or they and their children will be ineligible for the vital nutrition assistance provided by SNAP.
Women make up more than 80 percent of single parents in the United States, and households headed by women are far more likely than those headed by men to struggle with poverty. It comes as no surprise that households headed by women are disproportionately represented among those who receive SNAP benefits.
Make no mistake: Those most affected by the harsh proposals in this Farm Bill will be women—specifically single mothers.
While we can all agree that work is essential, burdening already struggling single mothers with the horrible anxiety that their children will go without food because they can’t find work is untenable. And going without is a far too likely scenario, because without childcare, single mothers simply cannot go to work or training or school. Nowhere does the Farm Bill provide for the untold millions of dollars needed to ensure that all working mothers can access affordable quality childcare—the single most vital need for any mother to re-enter the labor force.
As a single mother, I know first-hand how challenging it is to work and raise a family on your own. I remember the anxiety of scrambling to find a local childcare provider that is available during the hours you must be at work, and the panic when the childcare provider changes hours or your child grows too old to be at that facility. I remember the cold fear of looking at my bank balance and realizing that if I pay for childcare, I may have nothing left to pay my utility bill.
All parents must make hard choices—but when you alone are responsible for the well-being of your children, it can be daunting. Without support, no one can do this, let alone do it well. I was lucky to have a support system of family and friends. I was also lucky that we received government benefits, because without them my children would not have thrived.
No mother should have to choose between having her children go hungry or leaving them alone so she can go to work. This Farm Bill offers single mothers just this Hobson’s Choice. Congress must abandon its misogynistic ideology, stop playing politics with the lives of real women and their children and take meaningful steps that will make a truly positive impact in the lives of families nationwide.
Abby J. Leibman is president and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, a national advocacy organization working to end hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds in the United States and Israel. She is also co-founder of the California Women’s Law Center.