There’s something about a countdown clock that inspires Congress to pass legislation.
With just weeks until the 116th Congress gavels in, the members of the 115th are busy passing bipartisan legislation, including a long-awaited farm bill that received overwhelming support in both houses of Congress.
This is a big deal for needy individuals and households because the $867 billion bill maintains the food benefit program that provides nutrition assistance to Washington households with a maximum monthly income of $1,005 for a single person and $2,050 for a family of four.
When first introduced, Republican lawmakers tried to cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits by $17 billion over 10 years and add strict work requirements, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). If included, recipients between 18 and 59 years of age would have to work full or part time to receive benefits, even if they have young children. The proposal also included a “benefits cliff” for households making over 130 percent of the federal poverty line.
The CBO estimated that these changes would have ended or reduced benefits for as many as 1 million households encompassing 2 million people. All told, 62 percent of those households would have included adults caring for young children.
Groups cheered the rejection of these new standards.
“The nutrition provisions of the farm bill that the Conference Committee released last night ensure that millions of struggling families and individuals will continue to be able to count on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to help put food on the table,” said Robert Greenstein, president of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, in a statement.
The federal government already has requirements on food benefits; namely, that “able-bodied adults without dependents” between 18 and 49 work at least 20 hours a week or engage with a job-training or volunteer program in order to stay on benefits for longer than three months over a three-year period.
Conservatives who take aim at benefits programs like work requirements because they believe that receiving money from the federal government can make people avoid work altogether. An analysis by the CBPP found that 58 percent of all SNAP households and 62 percent of families with children that receive SNAP benefits were employed in the same month that they got benefits.
Those numbers are higher if the timelines are stretched out to a year, hitting 82 percent and 87 percent respectively.
SNAP benefits help top up an individual or family’s budget to buy nutritious food. An individual in Washington state can receive $192 per month, while a family of four gets $640.
In Seattle, benefits go even further because of the Fresh Bucks program, which multiplies these dollars when used at local farmers markets.
This is critical because food security is a problem in Washington state. Approximately 1 in 8 Washingtonians was food insecure in 2016, meaning they were worried that they would run out of food before they had the money to buy more or they couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals.
Food insecurity is linked to worse health outcomes such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Women experiencing food insecurity were more likely to be overweight and have higher levels of stress and depression.
According to the American Community Survey, SNAP benefits provided roughly $1.53 billion in food benefits to a monthly average of 1,070,933 people in Washington in fiscal year 2015 and served everyone eligible for benefits in Washington the year before.
The farm bill isn’t just about food benefits. It also includes key programs that help farmers, including crop insurance and a provision that protects dairy farmers if milk prices drop too low.
This year’s bill had a few other additions, including the legalization of hemp and hemp products. Those had been banned under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act because of the plant’s relation to marijuana, but hemp fiber has all kinds of uses including in paper, clothing, rope and more.
Included in the rules surrounding bill’s passage was a prohibition that the House take a vote on an end to United States’ military support of Saudi Arabia in its war on Yemen.
According to the United Nations, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is the worst in the world.
A quarter of the population need nutrition support. Half of the children are stunted due to malnutrition. Nearly 3 million children and women are acutely malnourished.
Save the Children, a charity, says as many as 85,000 Yemeni children have died from starvation since 2016.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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