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Congress Must Work Together to Save the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

By Jim Mullen, president and CEO of United Way of Summit County, and Dan Flowers, president and CEO of the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank

Congress is currently debating the Farm Bill, which will determine the future of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This program is a vital, temporary lifeline for millions of people who have jobs, but don’t earn enough to feed their families. Some provisions in the Senate version of the bill would strengthen SNAP. However, the House’s bill would make indiscriminate cuts to SNAP, hurting families in our community who are already working or seeking work.

Both the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank and United Way of Summit County know the enormous importance of nutritional support to the future health and prosperity of Greater Akron. The Foodbank envisions a thriving community free of hunger and is the source of emergency food for nearly 500 pantries, hot meal sites, shelters and other hunger-relief organizations within an eight-county service area since 1982. Last year, the Foodbank, in collaboration with its extensive network, helped provide access to food for 26 million meals through our distribution and SNAP outreach. The Foodbank assisted individuals in completing more than 1,600 SNAP applications in 2017, yielding an approximate value of $3.38 million or 1.25 million meals. The Farm Bill and its components, including SNAP, The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), are imperative to the well-being of our community.

Last year, United Way of Summit County announced four Bold Goals by 2025. Based on key community measures, these goals aim to improve the local community by raising third-grade reading, high school graduation and college/career readiness rates, financially empowering local residents and lowering ER visits due to drug overdoses.

Nutritional assistance through SNAP is vital to the success of these Bold Goals. Kids can’t concentrate and learn in school on an empty stomach. Families won’t get ahead financially if they must choose between putting food on the table and saving for the future. And with the addiction crisis plaguing our country, too many grandparents are struggling to raise grandchildren, having lost sons and daughters to addiction.

We applaud Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown for voting in favor of the bi-partisan commonsense reforms included in the Senate version of the Farm Bill which maintains current eligibility rules and work requirements, improving SNAP employment and training programs, and taking commonsense steps to improve the program’s integrity.

The House’s version of the Farm Bill, however, rewrites eligibility and work requirements, making it harder for older adults, families with young children, and workers who lose their jobs or have their hours cut to receive nutritional help. If this version becomes law, many of the 67,191 Summit County residents who rely on SNAP – including children, working families, seniors, people with disabilities and veterans – would be impacted. If the House’s version of the Farm Bill is approved, resulting in SNAP benefits being reduced, the Foodbank would need to supplement the meals lost. Reducing food insecurity requires both public and private investment. The Foodbank’s charitable network of partners simply could not make up the difference.

We know there’s dignity in work and everyone who can work should be encouraged to do so. That’s why SNAP has strict work requirements. Adults who don’t have disabilities, children or other dependents are required to work or participate in a work program for at least 20 hours each week to receive SNAP benefits for more than three months in a 36-month period.

Current requirements give recipients three months to find a job, but the changes proposed in the House bill would limit that to one month. Ohioans who lose their jobs or see their hours cut would be left with little time to transition to new employment before losing nutritional support.

The House Bill will also newly extend these work requirements to adults between the ages of 50 and 59 and parents taking care of children – two groups that face additional difficulty in finding work in the case of sudden unemployment. Why force parents to choose between feeding their children and putting gas in the car to get to a job interview?

Thank you to Congresswoman Marcia Fudge and Congressman Tim Ryan for advocating in support of similar provisions in the House Bill. As Conference Committee negotiations proceed, we strongly urge their colleagues in Congress to ensure that the bipartisan Senate SNAP provisions be included in the final Farm Bill conference report.

This region is a great place to call home, which is why we want Congress to work together to protect local working families, including children, veterans and seniors. Without having to worry about how to put food on the table, people in our community can focus on getting and keeping jobs that support their families. And that’s good for everyone.