Beckley Register-Herald – Last month, in a major victory for West Virginians, Congress passed a farm bill that protects the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps thousands in our state, and millions across the country, put food on their tables. Read article.
The final, overwhelmingly bipartisan bill rejected harmful cuts and changes to SNAP –proposed by the House and endorsed by the President – that would have taken away food assistance from people in need. If House Republicans had been successful in their efforts to cut SNAP funding, there would have been serious repercussions in our state – nearly one in five West Virginians uses SNAP to help feed themselves and their families.
Communities across West Virginia should feel proud that the final version of the farm bill protects food assistance for families who struggle to make ends meet, as well as veterans and countless others. Many of our neighbors spoke out passionately against the cuts and, in the process, showed that taking away food assistance and punishing families who are struggling is not the right approach. Because of our collective efforts, the farm bill that passed last month ensures that SNAP will continue to help feed children and their parents in our communities, as well as seniors, people with disabilities and working people with low pay and inconsistent hours.
In addition to helping feed hungry West Virginians, SNAP is one of the nation’s most effective anti-poverty programs. In our state, SNAP keeps over 74,000 people out of poverty, including 24,000 children. For families who may not otherwise be able to afford groceries, having that support can be a game-changer that leads to healthier, happier children. SNAP also helps bolster our local economy by driving spending at farmers markets, grocery stores, and other local businesses.
For all those reasons, we thank Senator Capito, Senator Manchin, and Representative McKinley, who voted to protect SNAP funding, as well as the tireless advocates across our state who raised their voices to protect SNAP.
While the passage of the bill is a significant milestone, we still have work to do to reduce hunger in our state, by ensuring that SNAP is reaching everyone in need. We must also keep pushing back on repeated attempts to cut SNAP. On the same day that President Trump signed the farm bill, his administration announced it would try to implement some of the harmful policies, that were rejected in the farm bill, through regulations. Specifically, the administration has proposed a regulation that would restrict states’ ability to exempt people in areas with few jobs from a three-month time limit that takes SNAP from adults who don’t work enough hours. Such a rule would mean fewer residents will be able to access SNAP when they hit tough times.
This restriction would hit rural West Virginia the hardest, an area that has suffered massive job loss over the last decade. And while the state overall had the fifth-highest poverty rate in the country in 2016 at 17.9 percent, nearly 20 percent of people in rural WV counties live in poverty. From 2007 to 2016, rural West Virginia counties lost more than 21,000 jobs. Recently, ABB, Inc. in Lewisburg and Pinnacle Mine in Wyoming County have closed, costing rural counties hundreds of jobs and creating holes that will be difficult to fill. Punishing West Virginians whose jobs have left them and who have few other options is not the right path to helping them find steady work that provides a living wage.
The Trump administration’s proposed regulation would drastically increase demand at food pantries and soup kitchens around the state. Food pantries saw up to a 30-percent increase in food need in nine West Virginia counties who re-implemented time limits on those who were out of work in 2016 and 2017 as part of a pilot program. Food banks and pantries across the state have made clear that they would be unable to meet the increased need that would be created by any cuts to SNAP.
West Virginians must remain vigilant against these and other threats to food security and the health of our communities. As we celebrate a strong, bipartisan farm bill, we must continue to advocate for all families in our state who use SNAP and other assistance to make ends meet.