Essential to Health, Food Assistance Faces Uncertainty

(This column was provided by Becci Reedus, executive director of The Crisis Center in Iowa City, Iowa. Prior to joining The Crisis Center in 2008, she was in leadership at Common Ground in Michigan for more than 20 years. The Crisis Center Food Bank serves more than 1,000 families each week and provides nearly 54,000 food assists annually. Because food and diet are critical factors to good health and food assistance programs are facing constraints similar to Medicaid and other health care programs, we felt it should be shared. )

As you may have seen in the news, the new Farm Bill aims to restrict eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP (food stamps) recipients across the country. With our food bank clients in mind, we are keeping our eye on Capitol Hill.

Without SNAP, we could not meet client need. The Crisis Center and other food pantries receive food from the USDA’s Emergency Food Assistance Program.

Food banks are designed to be a supplemental food source, not a replacement for food stamps. SNAP can provide 12 meals for every one meal a food pantry can provide, according to the Feeding America food bank network. Already, our pantry is nearing capacity, distributing almost 2 million pounds of food annually.

The biggest change, affecting an estimated 5 million of the 7 million SNAP recipients are the new work requirements. Already, SNAP requires all able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 49 and do not have dependents to work 20 hours a week at an approved job or be enrolled in a training program.

With the proposed Farm Bill changes, the age would increase from 49 to 59, a population that might be technically considered “able-bodied” but could not actually handle many of the physically demanding jobs readily available, including temporary, seasonal or unstable jobs with widely variable hours.

And while a number of late night, second shift jobs are available, many low-income families do not have transportation, and during these hours public transportation is reduced, spotty, or doesn’t exist at all. Also, for families with young children, daycare options for second-shift workers are limited, if available at all.

Being between jobs would be detrimental to SNAP eligibility. The amount of time adults within the age parameters could be between jobs (or in a job that offers less than 20 hours per week on a consistent basis) would be reduced from three months to only one month. If they cannot meet this requirement, they will become ineligible for a year. If they lose their job and are unable to replace it within a month a second time, they will be ineligible for three years.

Losing SNAP benefits and going hungry will not help anyone find a job, nor will it speed up their job-seeking process.

Many people, in order to jump through the newest hoops, will be forced to take jobs that will never pay a living wage, are temporary, have no room for advancement, and will not meet their family’s needs. These kinds of jobs will not lift people out of poverty.

At The Crisis Center, we’re proud to offer low barrier food assistance for those who fall through the cracks of other programs. However, the more clients we serve, the harder it will be for us to keep our food bank shelves stocked.

You can help. Take a moment to contact your elected officials to ask them to oppose these changes to SNAP. It’s already very difficult for our friends and neighbors in need to access SNAP benefits; it doesn’t need to be harder.