COLUMBUS, Ohio - Historic changes to one of the nation's foremost anti-hunger programs will be debated today in the U.S. House Agriculture Committee.
After its release just last week, the House of Representatives' version of the 2018 Farm Bill is expected to move swiftly through the House, which is troublesome to hunger-fighting groups including the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.
That organization's executive director, Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, said the proposal imposes a strict work mandate for those receiving help through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
"Let me be clear," she said. "The current bill as it stands will increase hunger and contribute to escalating health-care costs instead of maintaining our country's long-term commitment to providing hunger relief and working to prevent hunger and food insecurity."
Currently, SNAP recipients aged 18 to 49 without dependents are subject to work requirements. The legislation would expand the age to 59, and include parents with children ages 6 and older. Those who fall short of the 20-hour-per-week work requirement could lose benefits after one month.
Supporters of the bill have maintained that the changes will incentivize work and lift people out of poverty, while continuing support for those in need.
According to Hamler-Fugitt, the majority of SNAP recipients already are employed, but often in low-paying, part-time positions with inflexible hours that make it difficult to meet work requirements. She noted that some 375,000 Ohioans lost SNAP assistance after the state rejected a work-requirement wavier four years ago.
"Many of them were not able to get employment. They could no longer stand in grocery store checkout lines in order to purchase food," she said. "Instead they've been forced into food bank, food pantry, and soup kitchen lines in order to feed themselves."
The Farm Bill is renewed every five years, and Hamler-Fugitt noted that it typically has bipartisan support.
"Democrats and Republicans, urban and rural interests all work together acknowledging and understanding the interconnectedness of our country's food system," she said. "This partisan farm bill undermines nutrition assistance for vulnerable Ohioans who are already living on the margins."
The nearly 1.5 million Ohioans who rely on SNAP assistance receive, on average, about $120 a month to help buy groceries.
Details of the legislation are online at agri-pulse.com.