Opinion: Congress should finish work on Farm Bill
With the Farm Bill having now expired in Washington, the U.S. House of Representatives should work swiftly to accept the bipartisan Senate version of the bill, which passed in June by a vote of 86-11. The Senate version of the bill, which oversees food and agriculture programs across the country, provides critical access to nutritious food and will keep hard-working Michigan families from going hungry.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, provides temporary support to working families in times of hardship, so they can feed their families while getting back on their feet.
There are currently 1.4 million food-insecure Michiganians — that’s 14.2 percent of our population. Of those individuals, 73 percent are below the SNAP poverty threshold. On a national scale, one in six children in the United States — approximately 13 million — don’t know where their next meal is coming from. That’s enough children to fill 180,555 school buses.
Detractors will argue that SNAP doesn’t have strict enough work requirements for participants. However, current requirements, which are supported in the Senate Bill, limit recipients to just three months to find a job. Meanwhile, House-proposed changes to SNAP would further limit that timeframe to one month.
Anyone who has experienced unemployment knows how hard it can be to find a job, and this can be especially true about quality, higher-paying jobs. Forcing people to accept the first job they can find just to meet work requirements may mean taking unstable jobs or jobs that don’t pay enough to cover even basic household bills.
At the Michigan Association of United Ways (MAUW), the association that serves around 60 local United Way chapters throughout the state, we know that too many Michiganders are already working, yet unable to make ends meet.
A 2017 MAUW report on ALICE households – those that are Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed -- found that low-wage jobs continue to dominate the Michigan employment landscape. In fact, 62 percent of jobs in the state pay less than $20 per hour, and more than two-thirds of those pay less than $15 per hour. With household budgets being forced upwards, Michiganders living off of these wages are already scrambling to provide for their families.
Under some of Congress’ proposed eligibility changes to the Farm Bill, a single mother with two children who makes $28,000 a year earns too much to receive help. With housing costs on the rise, that salary isn’t enough to pay for basic expenses like rent and child care.
As the debate continues, many will speak disparagingly about the individuals who utilize the SNAP program. The fact is, nearly two-thirds of SNAP participants are children, seniors or people with disabilities. Approximately 1.5 million veterans live in households that participate in SNAP, more than the number of service members currently on active duty.
The program already has a rigorous established system of determining eligibility, ensuring those who truly need assistance are able to receive it.
At MAUW, we believe that Congress needs to work together to protect working families, including children, veterans and seniors. I applaud Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters for doing just that through their support for the Senate’s strong bipartisan SNAP provisions. I also urge Michigan’s members of the House of Representatives to include the Senate’s bipartisan provisions in the final Farm Bill and take care of our neighbors in need.
Mike Larson is president and CEO of the Michigan Association of United Ways.