Pa. needs a Farm Bill that helps those in need, not one that makes more cuts | Opinion

Joe Arthur and Abby J. Leibman
May 9, 2018

The Pennsylvania congressional delegation has a unique opportunity to work together to restore the nonpartisan integrity of the nation’s Farm Bill.

Crafted generations ago to balance the needs of rural food producers with struggling food consumers, the Farm Bill has served as a remarkable example of law that reflects the best in government policymaking – until now.

The 2018 Farm Bill proposal that is close to being debated by the House of Representatives represents a dangerous shift in that long-standing legislative history.

The Farm Bill’s flagship nutrition program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has been singled out for unprecedented and draconian changes. Democrats and Republicans should work together to improve SNAP, but the current proposal will be harmful to seniors, children and others who need the support of SNAP to get through a tough period in their lives.

Working in concert with local food banks, SNAP is a lifeline for Pennsylvanians struggling to feed themselves and their families.

The bill, as proposed, would increase hunger among two of our most vulnerable groups – older adults and single mothers raising children.

Further, food banks simply could not make up for the increased demand that would occur at local food pantries if this proposal moves forward. For every meal that the Feeding America network of food banks provides, SNAP provides 12.

Currently, SNAP’s already strict work requirements mandate SNAP recipients ages 18-49 without dependents must work at least 20 hours per week or participate in a state-administered employment and training program. Under this Farm Bill, these work requirements would expand to include people 50-59 years old.

Unemployed older Americans face unique challenges in reentering the workforce. Between age discrimination and limited training programs, securing a new job is harder and takes longer for older Americans.

The AARP found that job seekers age 55 and older remain unemployed more than five months longer than younger workers and are paid about 20 percent less.

Under the Farm Bill’s proposed changes to SNAP eligibility rules, single mothers and children would also be affected.

The new guidelines redefine “dependents” as children age six and under. For the first time, unemployed parents of children over the age of six will have a month to find work or enter a certified training program in order to continue receiving SNAP benefits.

In Pennsylvania, 37 percent of households enrolled in SNAP include children under age 18 and a disproportionate number of these are female single-parent households. The most vital need for any mother to reenter the labor force is affordable quality child care.

Without access to child care these mothers cannot work, nor can they be in training programs. Therefore, they will no longer have access to SNAP. How will they be able to feed their families?

Finally, unemployed SNAP recipients would have 30 days to find a job or enter an employment training program – or lose their SNAP benefits. It often takes longer than one month to find and start a job. SNAP currently requires able-bodied adults up to age 49 to be in work, training or education within three months or they lose their benefits.

This change would hurt people who fall on rough times and need more than a few weeks to get back on their feet. Congress needs to focus on improving SNAP – not punishing seniors and children with indiscriminate cuts.

SNAP’s purpose has always been to provide basic food assistance to Americans in crisis – not to serve as a workforce development program. With its severe cuts and changes, the current draft of the Farm Bill will help fewer Americans – including Pennsylvanians – and will exacerbate the problem of hunger. We cannot let that happen.

All of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation has an important role to play and a key responsibility in ensuring a fair Farm Bill. We call on you to do your part on behalf of all Pennsylvanians who struggle with hunger and reject the harmful changes proposed in the Farm Bill.

Joe Arthur is Executive Director of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank. Abby J. Leibman is president and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, a national advocacy organization.