Threats to food assistance in Farm Bill could harm thousands of Washington households

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Threats to food assistance in Farm Bill could harm thousands of Washington households

By Misha Werschkul, executive director, and Hana Jang, Narver fellow - April 5, 2018

When Congress returns from spring recess on April 9, they will begin considering a Farm Bill that could undermine nearly four decades of progress in addressing hunger by including harmful cuts or changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka SNAP, and formerly known as food stamps), our nation’s largest and most effective anti-hunger program.

SNAP, which provides food assistance for one in every eight Washingtonians, helps people get back on their feet while boosting health, nutrition, and children’s learning. SNAP reaches over 900,000 Washington residents, including: families with children, teachers, support staff, cashiers, retail staff, home health aides, and many others. Many SNAP participants work, but often have jobs that offer low-wages or not enough hours to make ends meet. Nationally, SNAP keeps more than 8 million people out of poverty – including nearly four million children. And SNAP provides more than $1.3 billion in federal resources annually to help boost Washington’s economy.

In Washington state 929,000 people receive SNAP benefits: 60% are in families with children, 32% are in families with members who are elderly or have disabilities, and 48% are in working families.

As Congress begins to debate the Farm Bill, Washingtonians should watch for and reject:

1.    Harmful cuts to SNAP funding. SNAP is an incredibly effective anti-hunger program. Even with a modest average benefit of just $1.33 per person per meal, SNAP has a vital impact in our state, helping hundreds of thousands of our residents put food on the table. Cuts and harmful changes to SNAP that take away people’s food have no place in the Farm Bill.

2.    Elimination of state flexibility. Washington state currently uses what’s known as “categorical eligibility” to help SNAP benefits phase out more slowly as a worker’s income increases. Taking away this option would punish people who work more hours or get a better-paying job with the goal of stabilizing their lives before moving away from SNAP.

3.    Increased paperwork and administrative requirements. One proposal under consideration is to undo the connection between Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and SNAP, also known as “Heat and Eat,” which allows Washington and other states to streamline administration of food assistance with utility benefit programs. This would result in costly and unnecessary new paperwork and administrative requirements for families and states.

4.    New, untested work requirements. The proposed Farm Bill may include harsh new work requirements and penalties that would eliminate SNAP as a core support for people who are unemployed or experience irregular work schedules. Research suggests that these types of proposals do little to promote work while pushing more people into deep poverty.

Washington’s members of Congress have historically shared a bipartisan commitment to SNAP as an effective way to help feed struggling Washingtonians and get them back on their feet. Our representatives in Congress must reject cuts to food assistance and focus on policies that help create jobs and boost wages instead of punishing people who are already facing economic hardship.