Congress walking away from families who need help putting food on the table

Abby J. Leibman and Kate Maehr
October 4, 2018

Read this article as originally published in Chicago Sun-Times.

In Illinois, almost 1.9 million people are able to put food on their table because of the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The support they receive from SNAP ensures that our neighbors have food and hope and that our community is stronger.

But SNAP is in jeopardy.

The U.S. House version of the Farm Bill, which governs SNAP policy, fundamentally alters this vital program. It expands restrictive work requirements, representing a dangerous shift that undermines the purpose for which SNAP was designed: to provide basic food assistance to Americans who need temporary help making ends meet.

As the Farm Bill Conference Committee negotiates the final version of the 2018 Farm Bill, they must recognize that, despite the economic recovery, 40 million American men, women and children use SNAP to put food on their tables. It provides a modicum of stability for families who have fallen on hard times. SNAP also is one of our country’s most effective anti-poverty programs, lifting nearly 8.4 million people out of poverty, including 3.8 million children in 2015.

Wholesale changes to how low-income people qualify for SNAP would prove devastating to millions of Americans who already are struggling to provide food for themselves and their families.

The House Farm Bill, as now written, would increase hunger across the country. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that as many as 2 million Americans would lose their benefits. The CBPP also has estimated that more than 500,000 people in Illinois would be subject to expanded work requirements — leaving a huge number of vulnerable individuals at risk of falling through the cracks with the increased amount of paperwork and bureaucracy, and increasing hunger and poverty.

The reality is that a large percentage of SNAP recipients are working or seeking work, as they already are required to do by the current law. The proposals passed in the House would impose additional requirements on those individuals, as well as increase the age limit of participants impacted by these requirements from age 49 to 59. Simultaneously, they also want to redefine “dependents” as children under age 6, meaning parents of kindergartners (which is not always offered for a full day) will have to work a minimum number of hours or lose their SNAP benefits.

Placing stringent restrictions on Americans already struggling to make ends meet will not actually help anyone find gainful employment. It only will mean they cannot afford food. Moreover, while it’s true that a good job can be a path out of poverty, work requirements alone have been proven to be ineffective at supporting employment.

In the coming weeks, as the Farm Bill Conference Committee tries to negotiate the disparities between the Senate and House versions to craft a final bill, we call on them to follow the Senate’s wisdom and adopt its thoughtful, bipartisan Farm Bill.

We urge them to reject ideological and indiscriminate work requirements that will hurt the people they purport to help, and instead to maintain program eligibility and benefit levels so that we, as a nation, can all thrive.