Among our West Virginia hills, it’s likely the most common questions heard upon entering someone’s home are: “are you hungry?” and “would you like something to eat.” Food bonds us and fuels us. It’s engrained in our culture – from garden canning to church meals – making sure our neighbors have enough to eat is part of who we are as West Virginians. Right now, Congress is debating two versions of a massive piece of federal legislation that governs agriculture and nutrition policy in America. It sets the policies that helps bring food from our farms and ranches into our homes and stores – and eventually to our neighbors.
Members of the Farm Bill conference committee have two very different bills (watch video detailing bills) before them: a House version that makes dramatic cuts to food assistance as well as job training programs and a Senate version that not only protects, but improves one of the nation’s most effective anti-hungry and anti-poverty tools – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Throughout the Mountain State, SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) supports thousands of West Virginians, including more than 130,000 kids, 30,000 seniors, 81,000 workers, 13,000 veterans and around 61,000 persons with disabilities. Continued access to nutrition allows parents to focus on work and kids to focus on school. No West Virginian should have to worry about putting food on the table.
It is encouraging that West Virginia Senators Manchin and Capito voted in favor of the bipartisan Senate version of the bill last month. The House’s version is a troubling departure from the bill’s bipartisan past of ensuring no American goes hungry.
New Agricultural Department data shows that 15 million households with 40 million people struggled to afford enough food at some point in 2017. That means roughly 11.8 percent of households experienced food insecurity. Studies have shown SNAP reduces food insecurity, which can positively impact health and well-being. In West Virginia, roughly 15.04 percent of households are food insecure.
Nationally and in our state the case for improving SNAP is only growing. The share of food-insecure households rose significantly due to the Great Recession and its aftermath, rising from 11.1 percent in 2007 to a high of 14.9 percent in 2011. While food insecurity has declined since then, it remains above pre-recession levels.
In West Virginia, the majority of jobs added since the Great Recession are low-wage jobs that often lack benefits and a living wage. Twenty-three percent of the state’s workforce is employed in low-wage work and 55 percent of kids live in a household with at least one low-wage worker.
With so much on the line between which Farm Bill version the conference committee will accept, now is the time to reach out to Senators Manchin and Capito and urge them to reject any cuts to food assistance by supporting the Senate version and join fellow Americans on September 13 for a national call-in day to Congress.
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