Critics say Farm Bill will hurt Vt. SNAP food benefits

Published: Apr. 18, 2018 at 4:07 PM EDT
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Get a job or lose your benefits -- some say that's the message in the new Farm Bill currently being worked on in Congress. Critics say proposals in the new bill could cut a lot of people off the 3-Squares Vermont program.

Winooski senior Michael Loomis takes the bus to an emergency food provider in Burlington. "It's necessary. Like all of the safety net programs programs, it is necessary," Loomis said.

He's retired but held many jobs over the years. They ranged from walking the streets of Burlington as a cop, to carting around high-level executives as a driver, and even as a school crossing guard. But now he relies on social security. Loomis is outraged by the proposed cuts to 3-Squares Vermont -- that's the program the state uses to disseminate SNAP, or food stamp benefits, from the federal government.

"If they had some frame or reference, if they had to live like us for a while, maybe they would see something," Loomis said.

U.S. House Republicans are pushing for more Americans to find a job or attend job training classes in order to be eligible for these benefits. Wednesday the House Agriculture Committee went through another round of discussion of the massive bill.

"We don't kick anybody off who meets the standards of 130 percent above poverty level and the asset test and who are willing to work 20 hours a week," said Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas.

Hunger Free Vermont's Anore Horton says 75,000 Vermonters feed themselves and their families with the benefits they receive from the federal government. "Making people go hungry has never let anyone get back on their feet," Horton said.

The organization wants Vermont's congressional delegation to lobby for nine goals in the Farm Bill -- things like decreasing administrative costs or supporting investments in technology that improve access to federal nutrition programs. "The majority of those people are children, people with disabilities, older Vermonters -- and of the rest -- most everyone is already working," Horton said.

Congressman Peter Welch sees a bipartisan path forward. "We could extend the existing Farm Bill this year and have the new Congress take up the Farm Bill, or if we could come to an agreement on the bill, that would be beneficial," he said.

The Farm Bill traditionally comes up for renewal every five years. Congress passed the current version in 2014.