By Lisa Schliff
As an advocate for ending poverty both in the U.S. and globally, I have been following the Farm Bill proposals and votes in 2018 for the 2019 federal fiscal year. The first House of Congress version of the Farm Bill proposed a large cut to funding SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), formerly known as food stamps. I am very concerned about keeping SNAP available to all who may need it. This is one of the first lines of defense for people on the brink of homelessness. SNAP/food stamps has always been embedded in the Farm Bill, and until now has been funded well enough to aid Americans struggling to put food on their table. In our incredibly wealthy country, it is simply inexcusable to allow any individual to go hungry. With the dominance of Republicans in the Senate and Congress, SNAP funding is now under attack.
What is the rationale of conservatives on undermining SNAP? I met with Congressman LaMalfa’s Auburn District office aides in early April to discuss the Farm Bill and cuts to SNAP. At the meeting, the aides handed us printed literature with links to statistics about SNAP fraud. We discussed the fraud, which was foremost on their minds and seemed to be the major issue. Yes, there are able-bodied people out there who could be working and aren’t. There is a certain amount of fraud, and there are ongoing investigations that curtail that activity. In fact, the information that the aides gave me revealed that SNAP fraud has been reduced from 4% to 1.3%, and there is ongoing progress in lowering this percent as well (Jessica Shahin, 2016).
LaMalfa’s overriding concern with fraud turns a blind eye to the realities of the poor in America. Many people in his very district are subsisting on wages that don’t cover their basic costs. Many are foster children who aged out of a system that failed them, and they are still at eighteen very young and inexperienced. How realistic is it to expect hungry and struggling individuals to pound the pavement looking for work and giving a decent interview for it? We cannot count on LaMalfa to vote in support of a Farm Bill that fully funds SNAP.
Fortunately, on May 18, House members mustered enough votes to dramatically defeat the House Farm Bill, 198 – 213 which would cut SNAP funding and take away food assistance from millions of people. All of the “no” votes were Democrats, plus some Republicans who objected to provisions of the bill. The Senate crafted its own Farm Bill, which will not cut SNAP, and it passed in a vote.
The process of finalizing and passing the Farm Bill is continuing in 2018. Regrettably, the new House version of the Farm Bill is even worse than the first one due to recent amendments. We could deluge LaMalfa with letters protesting cuts to SNAP, but he has consistently voted in favor of reducing funding. More effective in the long run will be to throw our support into the election of Audrey Denney as the Congressional Rep for District 1. As a Democrat, she can be counted on to listen to her constituents and support programs like SNAP that alleviate suffering and aid in ending poverty. Please join her campaign in whatever way you can and help her get elected to office.