John Sayles and Anore Horton: Trump proposal would be harmful for 3SquaresVT
After failing to gut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, known in Vermont as 3SquaresVT) in the Farm Bill, President Trump is now looking to sidestep Congress and slash our nation's largest food assistance program through administrative action. A new proposed rule aims to jeopardize food assistance for over 750,000 Americans by making it even harder for some unemployed and underemployed workers to access benefits when they have trouble finding steady work, while doing nothing to help them find stable employment.
The Vermont Foodbank and Hunger Free Vermont oppose this harmful proposed rule, which would restrict states' ability to waive time limits on SNAP benefits in high unemployment areas. The result would be billions of meals taken away from people struggling with hunger. SNAP is our nation's largest anti-hunger program, and it works. Each month, it provides more than 70,000 Vermonters with extra money for food, keeping them nourished when they are facing hard times, and making them more resilient and better able to weather a lack of employment options and other challenging situations.
Taking food away from people struggling to make ends meet won't help them get a job. Rather, the proposed rule would increase the risk of food insecurity for nearly one million people. USDA projects that the proposed rule would cut $15 billion in benefits from the program over a decade, and, according to calculations by Feeding America, this rule would result in a loss of more than 8.5 billion meals each year from the tables of people facing hunger. The Vermont Foodbank and its network of food shelves and meal sites simply cannot compensate for the breadth of the impact of cuts to the program, as nationally SNAP provides 12 meals for each meal provided by food banks nationwide.
Presently, unemployed or underemployed adults without dependents face strict time limits for receiving benefits if they are unable to find work. Specifically, adults ages 18 to 50 who do not receive disability benefits and do not have children are only able to receive SNAP benefits for three months, over the course of a three-year period, unless they are working at least 20 hours a week or taking part in a comparable workforce program or training.
The proposed rule targets and seeks to punish individuals who are in great need of our help—people without resources who are unemployed. The reality of low-wage employment is that individuals often face volatile job schedules and insufficient work hours, even if they are willing to work more. Many people here in Vermont who are subject to the time limit are already working, but for others things are more complicated. In a rural state like Vermont, people experience a number of unique employment barriers — lack of jobs in their community, large distances between where people live and where jobs are available, transportation barriers, and lack of career-relevant opportunities to name a few. If the proposed rule is enacted, Vermonters facing these unique barriers to employment will be at risk of losing their benefits during a time when they most need them.
Being able to put food on the table — along with access to health care and transportation, and the ability to maintain stable housing — are prerequisites to work. And when people have access to these basics, research finds they're better able to work and have higher earnings. We urge the Trump Administration and Congress to support policies that actually help workers get ahead — like raising the minimum wage, and investing in effective case management and work training programs (like ICAN in Vermont) to help individuals overcome these barriers to employment, especially in rural states like Vermont.
Hunger Free Vermont and the Vermont Foodbank are teaming up against this proposal and encouraging others to do the same. The public has until April 2, 2019 to submit comments to USDA — and it is imperative that the Administration hear just how dangerous this proposal is to the health and well-being of many Americans. We encourage everyone to submit comments in opposition to this proposal, and help prevent hunger in Vermont and throughout the nation. More details about the proposal, suggested language, and directions on how to submit a comment can be found at: hungerfreevt.org/timelimitcomments
John Sayles is the CEO of the Vermont Foodbank and Anore Horton is the executive director of Hunger Free Vermont. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.
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