COLUMN: Farm bill will set Americans up for success
The House of Representatives will soon consider a new Farm Bill. Unfortunately, there is a significant amount of misinformation being spread about some of its commonsense reforms that will prevent abuse of critical nutrition programs and ensure resources are reaching those who truly need them. It's important to clear some of those up.
In addition to providing certainty for American farmers by protecting important programs like crop insurance, this legislation includes policies that will improve the status quo and help millions of Americans escape poverty.
A large part of the Farm Bill consists of reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which offers nutrition assistance to low-income individuals and families across the nation. This program is important, but in recent years, it has become apparent that it is also broken.
When an individual or family first applies for SNAP, their household assets and income are evaluated to determine eligibility. The income threshold is set at 130 percent of the federal poverty level, so it has adjusted over time. However, the asset threshold was set in the 1970s. The Farm Bill would modernize the asset threshold for the 21st century.
Under current law, a typical household must hold less than $2,250 in assets to be eligible for SNAP. The Farm Bill increases the threshold for assets to $7,000 for a typical household. The bill would also exempt the first $12,000 in value of each vehicle per licensed driver in the household from counting towards the SNAP asset threshold, so families are not penalized for having reliable transportation to and from work, school, and their various activities.
In addition, the Farm Bill creates a new exemption for household savings accounts, encouraging families to put money away for emergencies and unplanned expenses. Current law punishes SNAP-eligible families from saving money, so the Farm Bill includes a provision that would allow households to save up to $2,000 before their SNAP benefits are impacted.
Another element of SNAP in desperate need of reform is the current work requirement. The current SNAP work requirements are vague and have not been enforced due to the availability of state waivers. In fact, meeting the "work requirement" can be as simple as checking a box when filling out an application, stating that you will apply for work. Statistics show that only 30 percent of the people who are required to work under SNAP actually do so.
The Farm Bill would strengthen the program by instituting a 20-hours-per-week work requirement for able-bodied individuals ages 18-59. Exceptions would be made for the elderly, individuals with disabilities, women who are pregnant, and for individuals who are the primary caregiver of a child 6 years old or younger.
In order to fulfill this 20-hours-per-week work requirement, the SNAP recipient must either have a job or enroll in the state's Employment and Training Services (E&T) program. The Farm Bill makes historic investments in the E&T program, and anyone who wishes to participate will be guaranteed a spot. States will have two years and robust federal funding to ensure their state-run E&T programs have the capacity to fulfill this promise.
I have heard from some constituents who are worried that they will no longer be eligible for SNAP under the Farm Bill. I am disappointed when I receive these calls, because it is clear these families are being given false information. The Farm Bill, which must be re-negotiated every five years, is typically very bipartisan. Unfortunately, this year, there are some in Congress who are using it as a political football and spreading misinformation and fear among some of the most vulnerable Americans.
The bottom line is that if you are currently getting SNAP and meet the income and asset thresholds, you will continue to get SNAP. Nobody wants to take away needed benefits from individuals who have fallen on hard times. The Farm Bill maintains benefits and also gives low-income individuals the opportunity to train and work towards a more prosperous future.
For programs like SNAP to truly be successful, they must set Americans up for success and not trap them in a cycle of poverty. Unfortunately, this has not been the pattern we have seen for the past 17 years. In 2001, there were only 17 million SNAP recipients in the U.S.; today there are 43 million. This Farm Bill would reverse the growing trend, by giving people the tools and resources they need to create a better life for themselves and their families.