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

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - Abby Leib­man is pres­i­dent and CEO of MAZON. Kate Maehr is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor and CEO of the Greater Chicago Food De­pos­i­tory. BY ABBY LEIB­MAN AND KATE MAEHR

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.

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.

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