House Farm Bill Must Protect Nutrition Assistance
May 25, 2012
By Helly Lee
Last week, the House Committee on Agriculture completed its final hearing on the upcoming Farm Bill, which includes important nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called Food Stamps) as well as a range of agricultural programs. With the hearings completed, the committee is now set to draft its version of the bill. CLASP submitted a letter to the committee last week to highlight the importance of protecting vital nutrition programs for low-income families, children and the elderly. In the context of the budget resolution, this committee proposed drastic cuts of $36 billion to SNAP - electing to take all the money the committee was asked to save plus some out of just one program. These previous cuts indicate the committee's misguided priorities and the hostile environment for programs helping low-income families.
SNAP effectively responds to the needs of low-income families and communities in times of economic struggle and has lifted millions out of poverty, achieving an annual decline in the nation's poverty rate between 2000 and 2009. SNAP's reach is not just limited to nutrition services though. The SNAP Employment and Training program prepares participants for jobs and helps these individuals build a foundation for economic security. CLASP advocates preserving this program to prepare individuals for jobs that pay well enough that they may no longer need benefits. In addition, CLASP continues to stand strongly in support of preserving categorical eligibility policies, which allow states to align SNAP rules with other programs serving low-income families to ensure that eligible households have access to all support programs available to them.
Once drafted, the House Farm Bill will be marked up in committee before going to the House floor for debate and a vote. The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry passed their version of a Farm Bill, with much smaller cuts to SNAP and other nutrition programs, on April 26 and it is expected to be up for debate on the Senate floor in June. Congress must either pass a Farm Bill or extend current policy by the end of the fiscal year on September 30.
There's much at stake in the Farm Bill, and CLASP will continue to monitor its progress and weigh in on issues impacting vulnerable families. In these tough economic times when unemployment and underemployment rates remain high and families across the country face real challenges, nutrition programs are a lifeline for millions. As highlighted recently in Spotlight on Poverty, an initiative managed by CLASP, churches and public charities, alone, cannot protect poor communities. Cutting resources to these vital programs will only further harm the many families and individuals already struggling to put food on the table and make ends meet.