Late last week, the House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway released his draft of the farm bill, after weeks of anticipation. As a reminder, the farm bill is a piece of federal legislation that governs agriculture and nutrition policy in the United States and must be renewed about every five years.
One of the most contested issues of the farm bill is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is vital for more than 40 million Americans, including 10 million low-income Latino children and families struggling to put food on the table.
WHAT IS AT STAKE FOR THE LATINO COMMUNITY?
SNAP is our country’s most important and effective anti-hunger program, helping families access affordable, nutritious food. For Latinos, SNAP plays a particularly vital role in addressing hunger, given the high rates of food insecurity in Latinos households—one in four Latino children live in households struggling to avoid hunger, compared to one in eight White, non-Hispanic children.
Not only does SNAP fill a critical gap when it comes to hunger, the program is an important poverty alleviating tool. In fact, in 2015, SNAP lifted at least 1.2 million Latinos out of poverty.
HOW DOES THE GOP PROPOSAL THREATEN HEALTH AND ECONOMIC WELL-BEING?
For months, Republicans have discussed proposals to cut and make harmful changes to our nation’s safety net programs that help our families afford food, housing, health care, and other basic needs. In line with this rhetoric, the GOP House farm bill will simply increase hunger and hardship. UnidosUS remains concerned with any changes that would ultimately make it harder for our families to put food on the table, including: drastically cutting SNAP funding, fundamentally restructuring SNAP, or erecting barriers to participation.
- Drastically cutting SNAP funding. Drastic cuts to SNAP funding could force states to reduce SNAP eligibility, reduce benefits, or both, affecting millions of people nationwide. This could ultimately result in higher levels of hunger and poverty, worse health, and other negative outcomes. On average, Latino families who participate in SNAP receive $290 in benefits each month. This is often not enough, and cuts to SNAP would only make it harder for families to put food on the table.
- Fundamentally restructuring SNAP. Fundamentally restructuring SNAP would potentially cause the most vulnerable in our communities to lose access to affordable foods. Providing additional funding to SNAP’s Employment and Training (E&T) programs, while well-intentioned, would greatly undermine the purpose and role of SNAP by potentially shifting resources away from food assistance. Under this proposal, states would be required to provide work or training opportunities for an additional three million individuals each month. The proposed $1 billion that the farm bill would allot to E&T programs would translate to only $28 per month per unemployed SNAP recipient. This is simply not enough to provide a meaningful skill-building opportunity at the expense of potentially losing access to food assistance.
- Erecting barriers to participation. SNAP currently serves millions of Latino families each year, many of whom are low-income working families. Any push to institute broad work requirements or make it harder for states to get waivers for the work rules, would be detrimental to our community, given that the majority of those who can work, already do so. Equally concerning is the proposal to limit states’ options of “categorical eligibility,” which currently allows states to adjust income cutoffs and asset limits so that working families do not abruptly lose much of their SNAP benefits when they earn slightly more. Added requirements will only create barriers to participation for our community which is already at an increased risk of nonparticipation in SNAP.
WHAT IS THE LEGISLATIVE OUTLOOK IN CONGRESS?
This week the House Agriculture Committee will hold a mark-up, a procedure to move the bill out of the committee and potentially to the full House for a vote. What could have been an opportunity to work on a bipartisan basis to protect and strengthen SNAP, has become unnecessarily partisan. We will look to the Senate to develop a proposal that will benefit America’s families, especially when they need it most.
UnidosUS will continue to advocate to protect programs like SNAP, including educating policymakers on both sides of the aisle on what’s at stake for our community. Taking food away from children and their families and making it harder for working families to make ends meet is inconsistent with our nation’s values. Latino voters will be watching to see who stands up for our children and families and who does not.