[Editor’s note: The following essay was prepared by representatives of a coalition of North Carolina-based nonprofits that includes the Durham Farm and Food Network, the North Carolina Justice Center, the Capital Area Food Network, the Orange County Food Council and Moms Rising.]
The foundational legislation for our farm and food system, known as the Farm Bill, will soon be voted on in the U.S. House of Representatives. This package of laws, which is renewed every few years, authorizes and funds federal nutrition and agriculture programs around the country, supporting farmers and consumers alike. The Farm Bill has a long legacy of bipartisanship.
This year however, legislators seek to undercut and erode the highly effective and efficient Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, along with other crucial nutrition and agricultural programs.
The proposed legislation, rather than giving low-wage and unemployed people the tools they need to achieve economic self-sufficiency, instead seeks to take food away. This will ultimately undermine the broader goal we all have of creating a North Carolina where all people can succeed.
The effects of these harsh changes will be felt by whole families, including parents raising children, people with disabilities, older workers, low-wage workers, and those unable to find jobs. Significantly, it would extend the reach of work requirements to affect parents of children over the age of 6, and older adults.
Although some claim this bill’s emphasis on work requirements will push people towards work, it ignores the fact that most working-age SNAP participants DO work, but often in unstable or low-wage jobs. Research shows that half of SNAP recipients worked in the month they received benefits, and three-quarters worked in the year before or after that month.
The Urban Institute cites numerous studies showing how “Medicaid and SNAP help workers maintain health and well-being — for themselves and their children — when the jobs they can find don’t include health insurance and related benefits or pay enough to support themselves and their families.” Struggling North Carolinians want to work at least as much as any other group, if not more so.
In purely economic terms, SNAP benefits pumped $2.2 billion into North Carolina’s economy in 2016, and the economic benefits were especially impactful in the agriculture and retail sectors. Research from Moody’s Analytics shows that for every dollar spent on SNAP, $1.70 is put back into the U.S. economy.
Furthermore, SNAP kept 346,000 North Carolinians out of poverty, including 158,000 children, each year between 2010 and 2014. SNAP dollars go to supporting grocers, farmers, paying workers, and buying goods, all of which leads to economic growth. The effects of dismantling SNAP will be felt far beyond the poor who use the program.
As if it weren’t enough to aim legislation at depriving our poorest consumers of food, the bill also undermines our food producers. The bill eliminates four programs – the Farmers Market Promotion Program and Local Food Promotion Program, Value-Added Producer Grant Program, and the National Organic Cost Share Program – that have driven the explosive growth in the local, organic food economy. These cuts will hurt farmers and local food businesses across North Carolina.
The House version of the 2018 Farm Bill seems designed to punish the poor, leaving even children and seniors without access to sufficient food, and it will undermine local farmers—all threatening to damage the economic and social fabric of our country.
To put us back on track toward a better food future where local farmers feed healthy communities, Congress must INVEST in, rather than defund these critical food programs.