SNAP food program at risk in House Farm Bill

Many low-income Marylanders rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to help keep food on the table for themselves and their families. However, SNAP is at risk as Congress attempts to reconcile two very different versions of the Farm Bill, one passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and the other, far superior bill that passed the Senate earlier this summer.

The biggest differences between the House and Senate farm bills are centered around SNAP, which is known as the Food Supplement Program (FSP) in Maryland. SNAP is our nation’s first line of defense against hunger and provides a modest monthly benefit to over 40 million Americans to help them afford enough food to eat. Around 640,000 Marylanders rely on SNAP to avoid hunger, with an average benefit of just $1.32 per person per meal. People who rely on SNAP include low-wage workers, parents, children, seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, primary caregivers and those with too few or unstable work hours. These people aren’t stereotypes or data points; they are our family, friends and neighbors. And contrary to popular belief, SNAP isn’t just a “city” program. It helps feed 17 percent of Maryland households in rural areas and small towns across the state, compared to 11 percent of households in the state’s metro areas.

In our work at Maryland Hunger Solutions, we see the diversity of SNAP recipients across the state: mothers who struggle with child care costs, which limits their work availability; residents of rural communities with limited access to transportation; formerly incarcerated residents who face challenges in the job market; folks with advanced degrees with serious health conditions who can’t maintain work; and seniors and people with disabilities who are suffering in poverty.

The Senate Farm Bill — the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 — protects SNAP and improves on promising approaches to help more recipients get the training they need to secure stable, gainful employment. It also improves the application process for elderly and disabled Americans and allows states to test methods of verifying eligibility to reduce costs.

In contrast, the House Farm Bill — the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 — would undermine our commitment to reducing hunger in Maryland and across the country. On a national level, the extreme SNAP proposals in this bill, which passed narrowly in the House by just a 2-vote margin, would eliminate or reduce SNAP benefits for more than 2 million people and take school lunches away from 265,000 children. In Maryland, the bill’s proposals could conflict with state policies to ensure efficient and effective receipt of SNAP benefits for Marylanders.

The House bill creates costly and burdensome paperwork requirements for Maryland’s state- and county-level agencies that operate SNAP, imposes unrealistic time limits on the working poor that only serve as a barrier to the program and rolls back a provision that Maryland uses to prevent the sudden, complete loss of benefits for low-income workers. Currently, Maryland gradually phases down benefits as earnings increase, typically a result of working more hours or earning small raises. This practice prevents workers from falling off a “benefit cliff,” which could push low-wage workers into cycles of poverty and prevents sustainable economic advancement.

For decades, the protection of SNAP in the Farm Bill has received strong bipartisan support. Unlike the highly partisan House bill, the bipartisan Senate bill provides fundamental support for Maryland’s low-income residents and helps lift and keep people out of poverty. It helps Marylanders on the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland, as well as the urban and suburban residents of our state. As the Senate and House work toward a conference report, we are urging policymakers to protect and strengthen SNAP and reject the House Farm Bill.

Michael J. Wilson (mjwilson@mdhungersolutions.or) is director of Maryland Hunger Solutions, a non-profit that works to end hunger and improve the nutrition, health and well-being of children and families in Maryland.

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