By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: December 27, 2018 | 12:30 p.m.
Nearly 1 in 5 Prince George residents enrolled in SNAP, a key Farm Bill program
VIRGINIA – After several months of debate, leaders in Washington have come to an agreement on a key piece of legislation that has implications on a local level in terms of feeding those in need as President Donald Trump is expected to sign the latest Farm Bill into law.
Both chambers of Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, bringing with it an agreement on the administration of one of the bill’s flagship program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP for short and formerly as the Food Stamps program, providing funding and adding efficiencies to make administration easier, and reinvestments in a number of key initiatives.
Earlier this year when the Republican-led House of Representatives presented their plans for the Farm Bill, significant concern about the administration and the future of the program many low-income households in the Commonwealth and across the country have come to rely on to put food on the table were raised after proposed changes where detailed for the first time.
At that time, their version of the bill’s SNAP administration sought to provide a “realistic, supportive and simplified work requirement paired with funding for states to provide guaranteed, improved and constructive options to move participants toward improved wages, higher-quality employment, and independence of government aid,” which would have been accomplished through establishing a work requirement for “all work-capable adults” between 18 and 59 years of age.
While that version of the bill did grant exemptions to elderly populations, the disabled, and pregnant women, some said the changes would force some recipients currently in the SNAP program out due to the requirements, a notion denied by Republicans at that time.
“[The bill] does not take away eligibility, but provides individuals options,” documents explaining the proposal said at the time, “Individuals may choose not to participate, but they will no longer be eligible for SNAP.”
The Congressional Budget Office, which analyzes congressional bills for their short- and long-term fiscal impacts, did note that SNAP spending would decrease by $9 billion under that bill mainly due to the employment provision that was proposed in the spring, with caseloads being estimated to drop by over one million people or 3.7 percent.
Rep. Donald McEachin (VA-04, D) was outspoken about his concerns surrounding that version of the Farm Bill, calling the House Republicans’ Farm Bill “reckless” as he represents a district that likely would have been impacted by the proposed changes to SNAP.
“House Republicans’ farm bill included a devastating $23 billion cut to the food assistance that keeps millions of Americans from going hungry, and it would have made senseless cuts to vital conservation and clean energy initiatives,” he said after voting against that version of the bill. “The farmers in my district asked me to stand up for what they need, and I did just that by voting against a bill that would do them more harm than good.”
According to data from the United States Department of Agriculture, as of FY2018, 41.9 million people and 20.7 million households receive SNAP benefits, with 776,000 SNAP participants being recorded in Virginia. Their data also shows, since FY2015, participation in SNAP has gone down from a peak of 45.7 million people during FY2015 to 41.9 as of the current fiscal year.
The most recent data available shows roughly 20 percent of Dinwiddie County’s population is enrolled in SNAP, while 16 percent of Sussex and Prince George County’s population takes part in the program. Just under 15 percent of Surry’s population are recipients of SNAP benefits.
Several months later, a new Farm Bill has been drafted and has subsequently passed through Congress, keeping the structure of SNAP in place while seeking to make improvements in terms of administration and helping those in need.
According to the House and Senate Conference Report on the Farm Bill, $1 billion in savings were made without cutting benefits or removing current participants from the program’s rolls.
In addition, $1 billion in various reinvestments have been made in the program, such as The Emergency Food Assistance Program, which supports food banks in the country slated to receive an additional $200 million in funding, improvements to the Electronic Benefits Transfer system that administers the SNAP funds to clients totaling $74 million, and a myriad of others.
The Farm Bill also reauthorizes programs that have been successful in the past, such as the Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, which provides low-income seniors with coupons that can be exchanged for eligible foods at farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and community supported agriculture programs and efforts to stamp out SNAP benefit trafficking, where a recipient of benefits sells their those benefits for cash to food retailers at a discount.
While trafficking “doesn’t increase costs to the Federal Government,” the USDA said, “It is a diversion of program benefits from their intended purpose of helping low-income families access a nutritious diet.”
According to a 2017 report, the total value of trafficked benefits rose to an estimated $1.1 billion annually, with just over one in ten SNAP-approved stores engaging in trafficking.
For McEachin, who represents a district where 15 percent of the households are enrolled in the SNAP program, it was important for him to fight for rural farmers and low-income families and individuals he serves.
“As I promised I would, I stood up for the needs of the farmers in my district in this critical legislation. After months of hard work and conversation, we finally have a bill that supports and assists farmers in Virginia and across the country who feed our families,” he said last Wednesday. “I am pleased that with this legislation we can fulfill our moral obligation to fight hunger, and give farmers the fair, level playing field they need to do business and feed America.”
He continued, “Earlier this year, I led more than 100 of my colleagues on a letter opposing anti-environmental and conservation provisions in the previously passed House version of the Farm Bill. While there is always more work to be done, I am pleased that our collective efforts yielded the removal of the most egregious provisions. I am committed to being a strong voice against policies that harm our Earth.”
The bill now heads to President Trump for his signature.