COMMENTARY: Low-income families and children are under attack with Farm Bill

BY LAURA GUERRA-CARDUS

As children finish out the last few weeks of school and families make their plans for summer break, a problem looms on the horizon: Congress is poised to make massive cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP is the largest nutrition program for families with children. So instead of looking forward to a happy and healthy summer, Texas children may be going home to less food on the table.

Over 3.8 million Texans use SNAP. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 80 percent of SNAP participants have families with children, and most are in working families. They are restaurant and retail workers, and those who provide child care and tend to our elderly parents. These lower-wage jobs often don’t pay enough for families to cover all their bills, especially when many of those jobs do not provide consistent hours. When times are tight, food assistance programs like SNAP help keep their children healthy and well fed.

SNAP has always had bipartisan support in Congress, and it’s a program that has long been proven an effective support for people who don’t earn enough to feed their families. When a parent loses a job or a family experiences a health crisis that threatens their income, SNAP helps close the gap and prevent families from experiencing hunger while they get back on their feet.

But now congressional Republicans are supporting new provisions in the Farm Bill — which funds SNAP — that would drastically cut eligibility and impose work documentation requirements and other new bureaucratic hurdles. Failure to meet work documentation requirements or to submit adequate paperwork in a certain time period would result in a year-long lock out from the SNAP program. This is troublesome when you consider that the large majority of SNAP recipients are already working and qualify for the program. The end result is that millions of children and families who continue to qualify for SNAP would likely lose access to the nutritious food they desperately need.

The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee,

U.S. Rep. Michael Conaway, a Republican from Texas, said this plan is a budget-neutral proposal, meaning that this choice to add work requirements is political.

While the stated goal is to get more people working so they won’t need benefits, the reality is that the proposal would force people off SNAP when their low-wage jobs fail to provide them enough hours to qualify for benefits. The bill will cut over $20 billion from SNAP — our nation’s most effective anti-poverty program that helps one in eight families afford groceries — and put it towards an untested job training program that punishes workers who can’t comply because of recent job loss, family emergencies and erratic seasonal work schedules. The work documentation requirements and the potential lockouts from the SNAP program will literally take food out of the mouths of hungry children and families.

In the Rio Grande Valley, within Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties over 42,000 people need food assistance to prevent hunger. One in seven homes are deemed food insecure, and one in four children struggle with hunger. In some rural areas of these RGV counties, the rate is one in two. When we talk about work requirements and cuts to the SNAP program, we need to remember that we are talking about these children. Food insecurity is linked to poor diets, chronic health issues, cognitive and behavioral problems, mental health issues, and poorer physical. But SNAP usage is associated with better health outcomes for children, preventing the negative effects of hunger.

The new bureaucratic hurdles for food assistance in the proposed Farm Bill will risk the health of children now and in the future when they are adults. We cannot deny a healthy childhood to our nation’s future. The cost for our children and our country is just too high.