ABINGDON, Va. — Two local food banks are taking issue with new work requirements attached to the House of Representatives’ version of the Farm Bill, which passed Thursday by a margin of 213-211.
The bill would change restrictions on who is eligible to receive aid from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. Able-bodied adults between 18 and 59 who do not have disabilities, a disabled child or a child younger than 6 would be required to work 25 hours per week by 2026, enroll in job training programs or not be eligible for benefits.
Pamela Irvine, president and CEO of Feeding America Southwest Virginia, said the changes could spell big trouble for those struggling in Southwest Virginia.
“Economically, it is going to be very challenging,” she said. “I believe it is going to impact a lot of families. Not to mention the benefits decrease, and for us, those work requirements are going to be challenging because we have higher unemployment than most of the rest of the commonwealth.”
Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee also has come out against the $867 billion bill.
Both food banks said the loss of benefits could harm food-insecure families across the region.
But the region’s two congressmen said they believe it will provide a hand up to people receiving SNAP benefits instead of a handout.
“I know they’re concerned, but I don’t think that will happen,” said U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem. “What we have found through sociology is people who are just sitting around, they tend to have feelings of less worth and depression. If you give them a little push … that’s actually a positive for them.”
Griffith, who voted for the Farm Bill, said Feeding America does a great job, and he appreciates what it does for the community. And while they think it may create more pressure on them, he does not believe it will in the long run.
The new requirements are positive reform and will ensure that SNAP is not simply maintaining people but encouraging them to explore new opportunities, Griffith said.
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, said the proposed requirements are reasonable.
“Throughout East Tennessee, I see men and women all the time who get up and do hard work at jobs with long hours,” Roe said. “At a time when jobs are readily available, it seems to me that we should be encouraging all Americans to work who are able to do so instead of simply providing unconditional assistance.”
Griffith said the work requirements can be satisfied in a number of ways, including job training and community service. Currently, there are a plethora of jobs available, and able-bodied individuals who can pass a drug screen and are not disabled have a pretty good shot at getting a job, he added.
But Irvine said job opportunities for people over the age of 50 in the region are limited. And while Feeding America is OK with some changes, there needs to be adequate support in place for those who are struggling.
“What we would be OK with is having adequate resources for people to have training and workforce development,” she said. “We support that. … If there’s adequate transportation and support in place for those individuals to support job training, we think that is a good thing. We think the change in eligibility for age is not a good thing. We support families being able to feed their families.”
Irvine said she favors a program that would give individuals a longer period of time to transition into training and job placement in order to obtain gainful employment. A lot of times, the system does not promote a good way for people to move from a food crisis to self-sufficiency, she added.
The Senate is expected to vote on its version of the bill, which does not include stricter work requirements, next week. Irvine said that bill would also be detrimental to Feeding America because it would reduce the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program. She said the Senate bill would cut that program drastically.
“We know it’s unrealistic to think there’s not going to be cuts,” she said. “We ask them when they consider making these cuts to consider the individuals in it not by choice. And to consider the children and seniors that will be impacted by these cuts.”