Proposed changes to SNAP leave nonprofits concerned

Members of Congress go back to Washington Monday with a number of items on their legislative plate.

That includes talks over a new farm bill, which contains provisions for programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) formerly known as food stamps. 

The version of the bill that passed the House Agriculture Committee contains changes to SNAP that opponents contend will force millions of recipients to lose their benefits. The draft bill widens work or job training requirements for SNAP recipients. It also shifts some funding to those job training programs, and adds requirements for states to track recipients in an effort to prevent fraud.

Agriculture panel chair Michael Conaway said the provisions would offer food stamp beneficiaries "the hope of a job and a skill and a better future for themselves and their families,” according to the Associated Press.

However, nonprofits across the country said the changes would force more people to seek their services in order to have meals for their families to eat.

“We would see an increase of between 50 to 100 percent in the number of people coming to our doors for food assistance,” said Rob Zeaske, CEO of Second Harvest Heartland. “So our message to the federal government and our representatives is we're not prepared remotely to be able to deal with an incoming self-inflicted wound like that in our communities in any part of the nonprofit system.”

Zeaske cited a study from the Boston Consulting Group that found proposed changes to SNAP could double the “meal gap” in coming years.

Sen. Tina Smith, who is on the Senate Agriculture Committee, took a tour of Second Harvest Heartland’s facility in Ramsey County Saturday. She told community members their concerns will be part of the discussion as the U.S. Senate shapes its version of the farm bill. 

“The number of people who could work and aren't working on SNAP is a miniscule fraction, less than one percent,” Smith said. “What we need to do is make sure people have the food and the housing that they need so they can live productive lives.”

Smith does not believe the House committee version of the bill will actually pass the Senate and become law. She said she is confident a consensus on a new farm bill will be reached before the current version expires in September.