House Agriculture Committee proposal fails Oregonians experiencing hunger
Initial proposal harms thousands of Oregonians experiencing hunger
On May 10, the House Agriculture Committee released its initial version of the farm bill. The farm bill contains two of our country’s most important nutrition programs — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). The proposal contains approximately $21 billion in cuts to SNAP but only moderately increases TEFAP over 10 years. These SNAP cuts will directly impact thousands of Oregonians, leaving seniors and families struggling to make ends meet and purchase the nutritious food they need.
“Oregon Food Bank supports families who are struggling to put food on their tables,” said Oregon Food Bank CEO, Susannah Morgan. “Because the committee’s proposal would hurt those families – in particular, the children in those families – we strongly oppose these severe cuts to SNAP.”
Proposed cuts hurt Oregon kids
In Oregon, the Department of Human Services estimates that cuts on the scale contained in the House Agriculture Committee proposal would eliminate at least 90,921 low-income participants from SNAP, or nearly one in eight of those who currently rely on the program.
Disturbingly, of those Oregonians losing benefits under the proposed cuts, 33,290 would be children or 37 percent. As only 22 percent of all Oregonians are children, the proposed cuts would disproportionally impact children by a significant margin.
At a time of record-level need, these cuts are unacceptable. Oregon Food Bank distributed an unprecedented 1.1 million food boxes last year and continues to see high need for emergency food assistance. SNAP is the nation’s largest anti-hunger program and prevents society’s most vulnerable — children, seniors and people with disabilities — from facing empty cupboards on empty stomachs.
Should these proposed cuts to SNAP pass, tens of thousands of Oregonians will lose all or some of their SNAP benefits and turn to food banks and pantries for nutrition. Already stretched to their limit, food banks will be unable to meet the overwhelming need.
SNAP categorical eligibility helps working families with higher living expenses
The House Agriculture Committee proposal includes a package of SNAP cuts totaling approximately $21 billion over 10 years including the elimination of broad-based categorical eligibility (cat el).
Cat el allows Oregon and more than 40 states and other jurisdictions to serve people who earn more than the standard SNAP eligibility level of 130 percent of the federal poverty level but face the challenge of high living expenses, such as medical costs, child care or housing. For example, a family earning 131 percent of the federal poverty level without health insurance facing thousands of dollars of monthly expenses for treating a severe medical condition can today rely on the SNAP for nutrition assistance. Without cat el, that struggling family would lose all SNAP benefits. Under the proposed cuts, Oregon could serve only households earning up to 130 percent of the federal poverty level, leaving more than 90,000 Oregonians without critical benefits to help purchase the food they need.
In order to maintain the integrity of the program, a cat el household must complete the SNAP application process and its net income must be at or below the federal poverty line in order to receive benefits.
Bill gives critical funds to TEFAP, but won’t be enough to make up for cuts to SNAP
The House Agriculture Committee’s initial version of the farm bill includes only moderate increases in funding for TEFAP by $217 million over 10 years. TEFAP plays a crucial role in helping the Oregon Food Bank Network meet the record-level need for emergency food assistance. Run by the USDA, TEFAP provides food at no cost to low-income Americans in need of short-term hunger relief through food banks. The Oregon Food Bank Network relies on generous donations from individual donors and community and business partners. But the healthy and nutritious foods provided through TEFAP are the backbone of the charitable food system that provided 81 million pounds of food through local hunger-relief agencies statewide last year.
However, the committee bill’s funding for TEFAP is problematic for food banks in the face of SNAP cuts. The cuts will lead to more individuals and families seeking emergency food services. And food banks, already facing long lines at food pantries and emergency meal sites, won’t have the capacity to meet the increased need. The charitable food system cannot make up the loss from SNAP cuts.
“Hundreds of thousands of Oregonians are still reeling from the effects of the Great Recession. And they rely on SNAP to feed their families for most of the month,” said Morgan. “Food pantries and other emergency food programs are already doing all they can. I urge our elected officials to have care and compassion for our neighbors in need and fully invest in SNAP benefits.”