DENVER – The U.S. House Agriculture Committee is expected today to hear a draft Farm Bill that would require millions of people currently caring for children, and those between the ages of 50 and 59, to find a job or lose their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
Katharine Ferguson, policy director for the group Hunger Free Colorado, warned that if it passes, the measure would increase hunger across the country and create more hurdles for people looking for work.
“We always tell kids to eat a good breakfast, and that’s because food fuels minds and food fuels work,” she said. “People will be in a better place to contribute to society, and a better place to succeed, if they have enough to eat.”
Ferguson said the bill would end or reduce benefits for tens of thousands of Coloradans already living on tight budgets. Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, who chairs the Ag Committee, said the changes are necessary to break what he called “a cycle of poverty.” Other proponents claim they’d prompt people who are struggling to get off public assistance and back into the workforce.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that for the most part, working-age adults aren’t dependent on SNAP, the program formerly known as food stamps, and that only children, the elderly and people with disabilities receive food assistance for extended periods of time.
Ferguson said most participants already are working, but many jobs don’t pay enough to make ends meet.
“When people can work, they do work, and the barriers to working are often very practical,” she said. “We have an acute shortage of child care, especially for Colorado’s rural communities and in communities where the wait for child care may be months.”
She said she thinks the bill would add costly layers of bureaucracy by creating a Duplicative Enrollment Database, in an effort to reduce potential fraud. She said counties would have to absorb the additional expense, and the requirements also could mean less local control.
Details of the bill are online at agriculture.house.gov.