Federal Farm Bill proposal breaks tradition of bipartisanship, burdens families

Written by: Children's Campaign
Date Posted: April 27, 2018

The Federal Farm Bill reauthorizes both agriculture and nutrition programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Historically, the Farm Bill has been a bipartisan piece of legislation. Unfortunately, this year, that is not the case. Last week, the 2018 Farm bill passed out of the House Agriculture Committee along party lines, and we are anticipating that the House will vote on the current version of the bill after their one-week recess. The Senate version is expected to be introduced soon.  The version of the bill making its way through the House of Representatives has positives and negatives for Colorado kids, though the negatives outweigh the positives:

Pros:

  • The bill encourages healthier diets by promoting increased purchases of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, including through retailer-funded incentive pilot projects.
  • It expands retailers to include online providers.
  • It increases funding to $60 million per year for the Emergency Food Assistance Program, with $20 million to be used for the Farm-to-Food Bank program providing inexpensive food for families who face the most barriers.

Cons:

The proposal expands work requirements, obliging able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 59 who are not raising a child under the age of 6, to work or participate in work training for at least 20 hours a week to receive SNAP benefits. (Current rules require adults ages 18-9 without children under the age of 16 to work.) The bill would make it harder for states to apply for waivers from work requirements in areas with high unemployment. Instead, it would require states to provide a work program. Anyone who falls into the work requirement category and is unable to find work would be enrolled in the program to receive services to improve their employability—a strategy that would be of little help in areas where employment opportunities are limited. The proposal restricts a state option known as “categorical eligibility,” which allows states to adjust the income cutoff so that working people do not abruptly lose their benefits when they earn slightly more than the federal eligibility cutoff. This change would make it particularly difficult for working families to be eligible for food assistance programs, slimming their chances of escaping food insecurity. It would also require millions of low-income households to provide their utility bills to SNAP administrators to validate these reported expenditures – creating burdensome paperwork requirements.

How does this impact Colorado’s kids?

SNAP is a crucial program to combat food insecurity among Coloradans. Food insecurity is already too common among Colorado’s kids with one in seven children in Colorado living in households facing food insecurity at some point during the year. In 2016, this represented 14 percent of high school students who reported that they went hungry at some point in the last 30 days due to a lack of food at home. Food insecurity impacts student academic performance and behavior in the classroom.

The House proposal creates additional barriers to receiving SNAP and will hinder future enrollment in the program, which is already an issue for Colorado, since we are 44 out of 50 in enrolling eligible individuals, crippling a pathway out of poverty and food insecurity. Adding work requirements to public assistance programs is ineffective and advances a false narrative about Coloradans living in poverty. Most families who receive SNAP benefits are already working.  Research shows that harsh work requirements do little to move long-term unemployed participants into the work force. Imposing stricter work requirements will jeopardize the health and well-being of hundreds of thousands of children nationwide. Further, there is no justification for weakening current waiver rules and exposing more people to the SNAP time-limit. Economic opportunity varies dramatically across Colorado. Unemployment rates range from a low of 2.8 in the Denver-metro region to highs of 6.1 in San Miguel County and 5.7 in Huerfano and Pitkin counties.

What can you do to insure Colorado families have access to healthy food?         

The Farm bill has historically been bipartisan. Now more than ever, we need Republicans and Democrats to work together in an increasingly polarized political climate. We know federal lawmakers can do better. We will continue to keep you updated on the legislative proposals as they move forward. There are several ways to get involved.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is asking for organizations to sign onto and share this letter, publicly opposing the House Farm bill. They are working to gather as many names as possible in advance of the vote by the full House—which could be as early as May.

The Food Research Action Center (FRAC) and Center on Budget Policy and Priorities will be hosting a national day of action on, May 8, the last day of the federal recess that is starting this week. On May 8, call your legislator at (888)398-8702, state your name and hometown, and urge them to oppose a partisan version of the Farm bill (H.R. 2).

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About Children's Campaign

The Colorado Children’s Campaign is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization committed since 1985 to realizing every chance for every child in Colorado. We advocate for the development and implementation of data-driven public policies that improve child wellbeing in health, education and early childhood. We do this by providing Coloradans with trusted data and research on child wellbeing and organizing an extensive state-wide network of dedicated child advocates. For more information, please visit www.coloradokids.org.