In early summer, each chamber of Congress passed its own version of the Farm Bill, which funds critically important food assistance programs for food banks as well as for SNAP – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps.

The Senate passed a bi-partisan bill – 86 voting yes, 11 voting no – that leaves SNAP and other nutrition programs unchanged.  The House of Representatives voted along party lines to make drastic changes to SNAP that will have the unintended consequence of pushing children out of the program.

No Congressperson wants to see kids go hungry.  What they do want is for able-bodied persons receiving SNAP to work at least 20 hours per week.

To be clear, SNAP already has work requirements for nondisabled adults with children 12 and for adults under 50.  The House of Representatives changed those age parameters.  Now, a single parent of a child over six would have to work or lose benefits for up to three years.  And the top age has been bumped up to 60.

The logic underlying the proposal is that single moms receiving SNAP can work while their kids are in school and that people without disabilities are fully capable of working beyond age 50.

But many jobs available to low-skilled workers come with ever changing shift schedules, including nights and early mornings.  Finding safe and affordable childcare all but impossible for low-wage workers.  So, families with young children could lose critical food assistance each month.

And the House bill ignores the problems facing older workers and those living in rural areas without reliable transportation.  If you’re in your mid-50s and have few skills or a truck that is broken down more than it runs, you may not be able to keep a job.  And if that’s the case, you may not be able to keep your SNAP benefits, either.  A veteran with PTSD who is unable to hold a job?  Ditto.

It gets worse.

Right now, states can adjust the income eligibility for programs like SNAP to reflect cost of living and other variations, as Virginia has. In counties with a high cost of living like Loudoun and Albemarle, this helps working families receive SNAP when they need it. By eliminating Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility, the House Farm Bill would end the ability of Virginia and other states to raise the income threshold from 130% of poverty to 185% of poverty.  And that would take food away from thousands more children.

In contrast, the Senate clearly understands these negative consequences, which is why it didn’t fix a bill that wasn’t broken.  Senators recognized that SNAP is a vitally important program, that it’s efficient with less than a 3% error rate and that it is naturally responsive to economic conditions so that the cost of the program goes down when poverty rates go down.  Taxpayers are paying $30 billion less for SNAP this year than a couple of years ago because fewer people are in poverty.

The Senate has offered a common-sense Farm Bill, and I hope common sense will prevail when the House of Representatives convenes a conference committee in the fall to reconcile the two versions.

What can you do? Click here to contact your representative in Congress and ask him or her to support the Senate version of the Farm Bill.


Michael McKee, CEO