After two years of heated debate, Congress has passed a Farm Bill costing Americans roughly $950 billion over the next 10 years. The bill made some small but welcome gains, including support for our small dairy farmers and increased funding for food distributed at food pantries. Unfortunately, these gains are minor when compared to the $8.6 billion cut to SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as 3SquaresVT in our state, over 10 years. Only 17 states will have to bear the burden of this cut, including Vermont, where more than 20,000 households may be impacted. Just three months after slashing food benefits by $5 billion, we are disappointed that, year after year, Congress continues to cut the nutrition program that is a lifeline for millions of Americans who are struggling just to get by.

We've worked daily for the past three years -- Hunger Free Vermont has been working diligently to protect SNAP funding in the Farm Bill for the nearly 100,000 Vermonters who rely on these benefits to feed their families. After forming the Vermont Farm Bill Nutrition Coalition, which included partners from state agencies, community organizations, and the business community, we developed a set of common recommendations for the Nutrition Programs funded through the Farm Bill. With more than 1,000 signatures from Vermonters, our Congressional Delegation took these recommendations with them to D.C., fighting to protect funding for SNAP, food shelves, and nutrition programs that feed children and the elderly. Since 2012, the Senate and House have proposed multiple versions of the bill, all including cuts to SNAP. Each time a different cut was proposed, we worked with our partners at the Department for Children and Families and service providers around the state to determine what the impact would be locally and shared the information and voices of struggling Vermonters with our delegation.

Unfortunately, the conversation in Congress has not been about how best to support the millions of hard working Americans struggling to put food on the table, nor has it been about how to grow the economy in the long-term by helping people get back on their feet. Instead, many politicians have focused on false claims of high fraud within the SNAP program and have argued that it is a drag on our economic recovery. In fact, SNAP has one of the lowest fraud rates among federal programs and it is one of the most effective economic stimulus programs out there. The program brings nearly $150 million into Vermont's economy each year, helping families afford food and supporting our local businesses and farmers.

The cuts to SNAP in the Farm Bill may mean that Vermont will lose $6.3 million a year in benefits, increasing hunger in Vermont and slowing our economy. The cut comes from making it more expensive for states to participate in the "Heat and Eat" program, a measure which helps families who receive food and heating assistance receive the maximum food benefit for which they are eligible by receiving a small heating benefit. Too many times we've heard this program be called a "loophole," which it's not. This program helps low-income families, most of whom are elderly or disabled afford both food and heat in the winter. The Heat and Eat program costs the state less than $75,000 annually but leverages $6.3 million federal dollars in the form of SNAP benefits.

Vermont is an incredible place to live, but the cold winters increase heating costs and make it hard for low-income families to put food on the table. With this Farm Bill, Congress is forcing more than 20,000 Vermonters, and 850,000 Americans, to face an impossible decision: to keep their heat on this winter or put food on the table for their family. We are deeply worried this bill means more hunger and struggle for the people of our state.

Marissa Parisi is the executive director of Hunger Free Vermont in South Burlington. She lives in Shelburne.