Opinion: Farm bill puts families, farmers, food banks at risk

The U.S. House of Representatives is planning to vote soon on a new Farm Bill that would add dramatically to the 42 million Americans currently living in households without consistent access to food. The bill takes a dull axe to SNAP, the nation’s food stamp program, making massive unfunded and unproven changes that will put Georgia children, families, seniors and veterans in harm’s way.

As a distributor of nearly 70 million pounds of food across metro Atlanta and northwest Georgia this past year, the Atlanta Community Food Bank works every day with families that deserve a Farm Bill that helps them put more nutritious food on the table, not less. Laura, a disabled mother of children with medical needs, is one of the people we serve through a Covington food pantry. Her family moved to Atlanta from Michigan for a job that fell through. Soon after, Laura’s 40-year-old husband suffered a heart attack and became unable to work. To feed her family, Laura also enrolled in SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. “Without food stamps,” she told us, “I don’t think I would have my children, because I would have to let them go where they could be fed and cared for.” Thanks to SNAP, her family remained stable during a major health crisis.

SNAP is a program that works. It helps families like Laura’s withstand short-term setbacks by ensuring they don’t lose access to food while reacting to job losses, medical crises, or other financial disruptions. Studies show SNAP benefits children, helping them achieve better health and succeed in school. It is an efficient program that helps the economy by generating $1.70 in local economic activity for every $1 spent. And SNAP is not a lifestyle, but works exactly as intended, as a short-term solution. On average, SNAP participants receive benefits for less than 12 months – as soon as families get back to work and out of short-term crises, they exit the program. That’s why spending on SNAP has dropped by 15 percent, or $11.8 billion, in the last four years, as a recovering economy has helped millions of Americans get back to work.

So if the goal of the new Farm Bill proposed by the House is to cut SNAP spending; well, mission accomplished. And these declines will only continue as jobs and wages grow.

Yet despite this evidence, the House version of the Farm Bill takes an axe to SNAP, imposing impossible new work requirements on families with kids over the age of 6 and on seniors under age 60. Why do we need these limits, when very strict work requirements already exist for able-bodied working age (18 to 49) single adults? Can we really expect people who lose their job to find a new one within 30 days — and submit all the paperwork to prove it? Could you or I do that? As a result, this bill will deny SNAP assistance to more than 300,000 seniors between the ages of 50 and 59, and to more than 700,000 parents with kids between 6 and 18. Denying food assistance to struggling parents and seniors actually makes it more difficult for people to pursue a job search, enter the workforce and start on the road to self-sufficiency.

The bill also requires that states provide training programs to help meet all these work requirements. The problem is that these state-managed training programs are not proven to work. Georgia is actually one of 10 states already hosting a pilot program for SNAP education and training, and we should be able to learn from the results of these pilots before requiring states to create new programs.

None of us can end hunger alone. SNAP provides 12 times the amount of food that food banks deliver each year. Our community is stronger when we all work together to help families put nutritious food on the table. We want to see a strong Farm Bill that protects the hungry while at the same time supporting struggling farmers and rural communities. As written, the House Farm Bill fails to advance these goals, and when it comes to the floor of the House, we should urge our Representatives to vote no.

Kyle Waide is president and CEO of the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

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