This Thanksgiving, Here’s Why The Black Caucus Is Fighting For 1 Million Hungry Kids
USDA threatens to take away SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, from millions of families.
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As we celebrate Thanksgiving and the remaining holiday season, it is important to remember this time of year can be joyous for many, yet stressful for others. Consider the person unable to find work in areas lacking sufficient employment opportunities; our seniors, children, veterans and persons with disabilities who rely on emergency food assistance programs; or the heads of household who must decide between keeping the lights on or purchasing gifts and items for traditional holiday meals. In this season of giving, we must remember that our care and attention should remain with the people in our communities struggling to survive every day of the year.
Sadly, the current Administration has disregarded its duty to serve all Americans — not only the rich, but also the poor. President Lyndon B. Johnson once said, our country has the responsibility “not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it.” However, instead of continuing the 55-year war on poverty, the current Administration has seemingly declared open war on our most vulnerable citizens.
Within the last year, the Administration has unveiled three proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, to gut critical food assistance for hungry Americans. Together, these changes would take food from nearly 4 million people, including seniors, veterans, families with children and Americans struggling to find steady, good-paying jobs. These proposals, which run counter to the stated will of Congress, will increase poverty instead of working to eliminate it.
The same day the President signed the 2018 Farm Bill into law, the Administration announced its first proposed SNAP rule change that would make it difficult for states without enough job opportunities to waive additional SNAP work requirements for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents. After failing to get similar policies that shred the social safety net included in the Farm Bill, the Administration circumvented the will of Congress by unilaterally attempting to cut SNAP benefits for over 750,000 people through this proposal.
Then in July of this year, the Administration unveiled another proposed rule targeting a larger number of people who rely on SNAP. Under its second proposal, USDA wants to eliminate Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility (BBCE) for SNAP, which gives states and territories flexibility to tailor SNAP to best meet the needs of vulnerable residents. In the face of stagnant wages and rising wealth and income inequality, the Administration’s proposal would strip nutrition assistance from 3.1 million SNAP recipients.
Eliminating state use of BBCE has the potential to trap countless people in the cycle of poverty and will further contribute to classroom hunger among poor schoolchildren. According to USDA’s own data, nearly 1 million children could lose their automatic eligibility for free school meals if this proposed rule takes effect. Many of these students would lose access to free school meals entirely, while others would have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to re-certify their eligibility.
SNAP has proven to be an effective anti-hunger, poverty-relieving program. For this reason, the Congressional Black Caucus sent two letters to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to express outrage over the Administration’s proposal to take food out of the mouths of families and children. The most recent letter was sent last week in response to USDA’s late October release of data showing the proposal’s significant impact on school meal eligibility. As the late Congressman Elijah Cummings said, “Children are the living messages we send to a future we will never see.” What kind of message are we sending by forcing children to go hungry in the classroom?
The third, and latest, attack on hungry Americans came last month, when USDA issued a proposed rule to eliminate state flexibility to set a Standard Utility Allowance (SUA) under SNAP. Currently, SNAP allows households to deduct housing and utility costs that exceed 50% of the household’s net income. By standardizing the SUA across all states, USDA’s proposed change would create winners and losers among warmer and colder states, reduce benefits for around one in five SNAP households and strip benefits from thousands of people.
The Administration fails to understand that people just want a hand up, not a hand out. There is no dignity in taking food away from the poorest and most vulnerable of our citizens. It is immoral, insensitive and cold-hearted. For all public servants, we have a duty to do the most for those who have the least. And as the “Conscious of the Congress,” the CBC has a duty to stand up for those in harm’s way and call on this Administration to immediately withdraw these cruel proposals. We stand ready and willing to protect the integrity of SNAP for those in greatest need. So as you carve the turkey and cut the sweet potato pie, remember those less fortunate who are counting on a hand up this holiday season.
U.S. Rep. Marcia L. Fudge represents Ohio’s 11th Congressional District, and has served as a Member of Congress since 2008. She is the chair of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations.
U.S. Rep. Karen Bass represents California’s 37th Congressional District. She is the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, which was established in 1971 and has a historic 55 members for the 116th Congress, including two senators.