Proposed farm bill puts Kansas families at risk of increased hunger

May 8, 2018

The federal Farm Bill proposal recently passed by the House Agriculture Committee would increase hunger throughout Kansas and the nation through its many changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It also forces other states to replicate some of Kansas’ failed policies on SNAP and other poverty-reduction programs, based on flawed studies about Kansas’ experience with similar proposals.

SNAP helps ensure that struggling families have enough to eat, and it has long been one of the nation’s most effective poverty-reduction programs. The proposal from the House Agriculture Committee, known as H.R. 2, would take two pages out of the Kansas playbook that have caused great harm in our state:

  1. Imposing counterproductive requirements that take away assistance from people who do not prove they are working a set number of hours per month and
  2. Requiring parents to cooperate with the Office of Child Support Enforcement or lose their SNAP benefits, which often ends up hurting children in households that lose food assistance more than it helps.

H.R. 2 also imposes new state mandates and rolls back state flexibility in SNAP. These changes will create unnecessary red tape and paperwork, making it harder for states to administer the program and making it more difficult for struggling families, particularly working families, to access the program.

Taken together, these cuts and changes to SNAP will harm Kansans, especially children. In Kansas, SNAP participants are more likely than the national average to be in families with children, families with members who are elderly or have disabilities, and in working families.

  • Nearly three in four (74 percent) Kansas SNAP participants are in families with children.
  • More than one-third (34 percent) of Kansas SNAP participants are in families with members who are elderly or have disabilities.
  • Nearly half (48 percent) of Kansas SNAP participants are in working families.

Families working hard to make ends meet have enough on their plate. We must ensure they do not have to worry about putting food on it.

Sweeping new requirements that take away food assistance will harm working Kansans, especially children in low-income working families

H.R. 2 requires SNAP participants between ages 18 and 59 (who do not have serious disabilities or children under age 6) to verify every month that they are working or engaging in a work program at least 20 hours a week, or that they qualify for an exemption from the requirement. The first time they miss this requirement, they would lose SNAP benefits for a year; the second time, they would lose SNAP benefits for three years. They could only regain SNAP benefits if they found a job with enough hours or if they could prove an exemption.

When Kansas made similar changes to our Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance program, the work requirements did not help families find work or escape poverty. In part, that is because many Kansans served by TANF – and the same is true for Kansans served by SNAP – are already working. In the year before or after receiving SNAP, more than 80 percent of SNAP households work. In families with children, that number is even higher, at almost 90 percent – and more than 60 percent of parents in these families work while receiving SNAP. In all, only 4 percent of SNAP households that worked in the year before starting to receive SNAP did not work the following year.

Creating barriers to nutrition access through work requirements will hurt Kansas children. In 2015, one in five (20 percent) Kansas kids were living in households where, in the previous 12 months, there was an uncertainty of having, or an inability to acquire, enough food for all household members. Since this proposal’s harsh rules and unforgiving penalties would apply to parents with kids ages 6 and up, it will likely increase the number of children in Kansas who do not have reliable access to food. When parents lose SNAP, that makes it harder for them to feed their kids.

Increasing the likelihood that children will not get enough to eat is unacceptable. Hungry kids are more likely to repeat a grade in elementary school, experience developmental impairments in areas such as language and motor skills, and have more social and behavioral problems.

Policymakers have many policy options to increase employment across the state and nationally, including paid family leave, affordable child care, increased transportation access, education and job training programs, and many others. To put children and families at risk of losing nutrition assistance by burdening SNAP participants with work requirements won’t help increase employment.

Child support cooperation requirement has caused more harm than good in Kansas, and should not be expanded nationally.

H.R. 2 also would take away SNAP benefits from parents who do not meet a new mandatory child support cooperation requirement — a requirement that most states have chosen not to adopt under a state option because it is expensive to implement and because states were concerned that the harm to children from sanctions would outweigh the likely modest gains in child support collected.

Once again, Kansas’ experience with a similar requirement in TANF validates these concerns and indicates that mandating this approach in SNAP is unwise and likely to harm children. In late 2011, Kansas began suspending cash assistance if parents failed to name a non-custodial parent so the department could collect child support.  When parents lose food assistance for noncooperation, Kansas kids will suffer the consequences. Suspending parents’ SNAP benefits reduces a family’s overall food budget and puts children at greater risk of food insecurity and inadequate nutrition.

Lawmakers should oppose proposed cuts and changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that would put more hungry families at risk.

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