As Farm Bill is debated, SNAP recipients watch for possible cuts

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: June 4, 2018 | 1:15 p.m.

Data shows roughly 20 percent of Dinwiddie residents enrolled in SNAP program

VIRGINIA – As lawmakers roughly 150 miles away in Washington, D.C. continue to debate the structure and funding priorities of the Agriculture and Nutrition Act, known as the Farm Bill, for short, the bill itself could have implications on a local level all the way to the dinner table for some residents as one of the sticking points of the current bill centers around one of the bill’s largest programs that helps feed millions of Americans.

In May, the House of Representatives voted down their version of the bill as billions in cuts are proposed to food assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, which makes up roughly 80 percent of the spending within the bill.

The SNAP program, formerly known as the Food Stamp program, allows those eligible are able to purchase eligible food items from retailers through the use of their EBT, or electronic benefits transfer cards, where funds are loaded onto their accounts each month. Within the Farm Bill that was voted down in May, changes to SNAP program are proposed that would impact those who would be deemed eligible for the program along with several billion in cuts to food assistance as a whole.

According to a walkthrough of the bill provided by the House Agriculture Committee, the proposed Farm Bill seeks to address currently “insufficient, vague, and unenforceable work requirements” that are “further undermined by loopholes to waive individuals from participating, [which dissuades] employment and restrict opportunities for recipients.”

For the bill that failed to gain traction in the House, the Republican-led House committee said the proposed Farm Bill would provide a “realistic, supportive and simplified work requirement paired with funding for states to provide guaranteed, improved and constructive options to move participants toward improved wages, higher-quality employment, and independence of government aid.”

The way that is accomplished is by “establishing a substantive work requirement for all work-capable adults” between the ages of 18 and 59 in order be able to receive SNAP benefits. The bill would grant exemptions to specific portions of the population, including the elderly, disabled and those who are pregnant. 

“[The bill] does not take away eligibility, but provides individuals options,” the document states, “Individuals may choose not to participate, but they will no longer be eligible for SNAP. Instead, the 2018 Farm Bill provides an effective work requirement of 20 hours per week, coupled with flexible means of delivery, recognizing states know their populations best.”

According to the committee, in total, “Over 35 improvements are made to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the nation’s flagship nutrition program.”

“The farm bill maintains vital nutrition assistance for those in need while making a historic commitment to helping recipients improve their outlook in life,” they continued. 

With these changes proposed within this bill, the Congressional Budget Office, which analyzes congressional bills for their short- and long-term fiscal impacts, estimates spending on SNAP would decrease by over $9 billion once that proposed employment provision took effect in 2021 if the House bill were to pass in its current form. 

Additionally, through their intensive research, the CBO estimates, of the people they have identified in their quality control data as potentially subject to the proposed work requirement,” they expect a vast majority of them, 76 percent, to remain on SNAP while the remaining 24 percent would no longer be eligible for benefits. 

In total, it is expected that the caseload under the bill’s proposed framework, which includes the work requirement would go down by roughly 1.2 million people in an average month when compared to the current law, or about 3.7 percent of the total caseload.

Programs like SNAP help connect those in need with fruits and vegetables, with many farmers’ markets beginning to accept EBT cards around the area. (Michael Campbell)

Overall, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture, as of FY2018, 41.9 million people and 20.7 million households receive SNAP benefits. Their data also shows, since FY2015, participation in SNAP has gone down from a peak of 45.7 million people during FY2015 to 41.9 as of the current fiscal year.

As the debate continues over the architecture of the bill, the implications of the final product could have impacts locally as thousands of people in Prince George, Dinwiddie, Sussex, and Surry who are among the over 776,000 SNAP participants in the Commonwealth.

According to the most recent data available, roughly 20 percent of the population is enrolled in SNAP in Dinwiddie County, while 16 percent of Sussex and Prince George County’s population takes part in the program. Just under 15 percent of Surry’s population are recipients of SNAP benefits.

Across Virginia’s Congressional Fourth District, represented by Donald McEachin (D), roughly 15 percent of the district’s households are enrolled in the SNAP program, which included the aforementioned counties, along with the Tri-Cities of Colonial Heights, Hopewell, and Petersburg, portions of Chesterfield, and points northwest into Powhatan, and southeast into Hampton Roads.

In a statement, McEachin was vocal about why he voted against the House bill earlier this month.

“House Republicans’ farm bill included a devastating $23 billion cut to the food assistance that keeps millions of Americans from going hungry, and it would have made senseless cuts to vital conservation and clean energy initiatives,” he said. “I voted against this reckless, partisan bill because we have a moral obligation to end hunger, combat climate change, and give farmers the fair and level playing field they need to do business. The farmers in my district asked me to stand up for what they need, and I did just that by voting against a bill that would do them more harm than good.”

The conversation on the Farm Bill was not lost on localities in Southside Virginia as Dinwiddie Supervisor and local farmer Harrison Moody asked his fellow county leaders and staff to keep a close eye on the bill and the impacts it could have on Dinwiddie.

“80 percent of this Farm Bill is spending for SNAP,” Moody remarked at past board meetings. “We need to make sure we study through this to make sure that we are getting enough to serve the people of Dinwiddie County along with the rest of the nation.”

According to published reports, the House is expected to vote on the $867 billion bill again in June. In his statement, McEachin said it’s his hope the bill that failed in May doesn’t return for further consideration.

“Instead of trying to revive [this month’s] failed bill, I am hopeful the House will move forward with a bipartisan farm bill that provides farmers and hungry families with the resources they need, and that supports continued progress towards a sustainable green-energy economy,” Congressman McEachin said.

Copyright 2018 by Womack Publishing
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