Pass Farm Bill for Americans Who Need Help

Nov 27, 2013

Thanksgiving is the perfect American holiday. It is a day for gathering with family and friends, watching football and parades, enjoying long meals around the dining room table, and giving thanks for all that we have been given. Individually, and collectively as Americans, we have much to be grateful for.

The holidays are also an occasion to reflect on those in need in our society. We live in the wealthiest country in the world, yet millions of Americans do not have the means to buy enough food for themselves and their families. Food insecurity is a real problem. In Southeast Michigan, over 135 million meals are “missed” annually. Gleaners, a food bank in my district, estimates that roughly 17 percent of the population they serve face food insecurity.

Vilifying the poor isn’t an adequate response, especially when we consider that so many of those without enough food are children, the elderly, veterans, and the disabled. Millions of those who receive food stamps go to work every day, but still struggle to afford food for their families.

Congress has been working for months on a major five-year rewrite of our nation’s agriculture policy. Much has happened since 2008, when Congress passed the last Farm Bill. The financial crisis sent our economy into the worst recession since the Great Depression and left millions of Americans unemployed through no fault of their own. This is relevant because the key sticking point standing in the way of Congress approving the Farm Bill is the difference between the House and Senate on the bill’s nutrition provisions. House Republicans have called for $40 billion in cuts to the food stamp program — formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — that would mean 3.8 million Americans would be thrown off food assistance.

More than 48,000 families in my district alone rely on food stamps every day. And these benefits are meager. The average daily food stamp benefit is roughly $4.50 a day. For millions of Americans, the program puts food on the table during difficult times. By its very nature, food stamp participation increases during economic downturns, and decreases in times of prosperity. They have been a lifeline through one of the worst economic crises in U.S. history.

I would be surprised if anyone who supports these $40 billion in cuts has ever tried to live on food stamps. In June, I took the SNAP challenge and lived on a mere $31.50 for one week. To say it was difficult would be an extreme understatement — and that was just one week.

I visit food pantries in the communities I represent, and I see families there in need. When I talk to teachers, many of them tell me that they have a drawer in their classroom filled with food because children come to school hungry. You can’t learn if you are hungry. Keep in mind that nearly half of all food stamp recipients are children.

Michigan’s agriculture sector has a lot at stake in the Farm Bill negotiations. We need a new Farm Bill for this country that not only modernizes our nation’s agriculture policy, but also maintains a strong nutrition title. Especially at this festive time of year, we must not forget the neediest among us and give thanks for what we have.

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