Montana Voices: House version of Farm Bill falls short of Senate bill’s achievements
As advocates for Montanans with disabilities, we have been closely watching the House and Senate deliberations on the Farm Bill, which includes budget and policy decisions regarding SNAP and other food and nutrition programs that assist seniors, people with disabilities, low-income working families, and other food insecure Montanans.
Because SNAP is our country’s most effective anti-hunger program, alleviating hunger and poverty for 120,000 Montanans each month, it has enjoyed generations of bipartisan support in Congress. Sadly, this longtime support is being tested in this year’s reauthorization.
The House and Senate took two dramatically different approaches in drafting their versions of the Farm Bill. The Senate approached the Farm Bill in a bipartisan fashion and worked together to protect and strengthen SNAP, reaffirming our national commitment that no one in this country should go hungry. As a result, the Senate passed their bill last week with an astonishing 86 to 11 vote, with both Senators Tester and Daines ultimately supporting the bill.
In stark contrast, the House Farm Bill proceeded in an entirely partisan fashion. The bill failed to pass the first vote on the House floor before narrowly passing on June 22nd despite opposition from all Democrats and a number of moderate Republicans.
Much of this opposition was in reaction to the bill’s harmful SNAP provisions. The House Farm Bill would reduce or eliminate benefits for more than 2 million people and expand bureaucratic work requirements that would take benefits away from anyone unable to go through new administrative hurdles and red tape. Many individuals with disabilities would inevitably be harmed by these proposals, leading to increased food insecurity and hardship.
We know from previous experiments with so-called “work requirements” that the result often means a loss of benefits, including for many individuals with disabilities.
Despite claims to the contrary, the House bill would hurt both workers and people unable to work due to disabilities. States already have harsh time limits in place for adults without children who do not work, causing many workers with limited or seasonal employment to lose SNAP benefits.
Additionally, it is often a challenge for individuals with disabilities or serious health conditions to prove their health status and qualify for an exemption, which can mean a loss of benefits despite being unable to work. The House bill would make these policies even worse by requiring participants to prove every month that they either worked, participated in a work program, or qualified for an exemption. What does this mean in practice? It means that caregivers and people with disabilities who can’t navigate a bureaucratic exemption process would be at risk of losing benefits.
In Montana, almost one-third of people who rely on SNAP for nutritional assistance live in families with seniors or people with disabilities. Many of our neighbors with disabilities live on very limited fixed incomes, so the modest assistance provided by SNAP can mean the difference between hunger pains and a healthy meal at the end of the month.
Maintaining the stability of SNAP is critical for our nation’s estimated 6 million people with disabilities who participate in the program, including roughly 2 million who don’t receive disability benefits but have health conditions that limit their ability to work. Unfortunately, people with disabilities are more likely to be food insecure, which is why we need our representatives in D.C. to preserve and improve SNAP on their behalf, not cut vital food benefits or make benefits harder to access.
As the Farm Bill moves into conference negotiations between the House and Senate, we ask that you join us in urging Rep. Gianforte, Senator Daines, and Senator Tester to continue down the sensible and bipartisan path carved by the Senate and reject the harmful and partisan approach taken by the House.
A Farm Bill is important not only to Montana’s disability community, but also to our farmers, ranchers, small businesses, conservationists, and nutrition advocates. It’s time to pass a strong bill for our state, and that means protecting SNAP.
Mary Caferro is director of ARC Montana; Jen Cleland is the executive director of Living Independently for Today & Tomorrow; Joel Peden is the advocacy coordinator with the Montana Independent Living Project; and Travis Hoffman is the advocacy coordinator for Summit Independent Living.