Thompson: These Historic Investments in Nutrition Assistance Will Change Lives
U.S. Representative Glenn 'GT' Thompson wrote the following op-ed for PennLive/The Patriot-News:
When my wife, Penny, and I were just starting out in the early 1980s, like many young couples, we struggled to make ends meet.
I was working full-time with individuals who were facing life-changing disease and disability on an annual salary of less than $9,000. When Penny was an expectant mother, we relied upon help from our families and also from WIC - the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.
WIC is a short-term intervention program designed to help pregnant women and their children meet healthy nutritional needs. After exhausting our personal resources and assistance from our families, WIC truly helped.
We never left a family member's house without a small care package or leftovers from a meal. We were fortunate to have WIC to ensure Penny had a healthy pregnancy with our firstborn son, Parker.
Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, I know what it is like to struggle. I often say the worst thing about living in a small town is that everybody knows your business. However, when everybody truly knows your business, it's easy to identify neighbors in need.
In tough times, we help our neighbors. That is the heart of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, provides a safety net to low-income families to help ensure no one in America goes hungry when times get tough. As Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Nutrition, I believe it is important to preserve the integrity of the program to ensure America has that safety net.
Despite declining levels of need since the Great Recession, nearly 17 percent of U.S. households with children still remain food insecure. As a parent, there is no worse feeling than witnessing your child go without something as basic as food. Even though fewer families are participating in the program, we have a moral obligation to see that children in this country do not go hungry.
That's why since 2015 the Nutrition Subcommittee has hosted 21 hearings on SNAP and received testimony from more than 80 witnesses on how to improve the program and work to end hunger in America.
I firmly believe as the House of Representatives writes a new farm bill, we can promote policies to get us closer to this goal.
In Fiscal Year 2017, SNAP provided more than 42 million Americans with food benefits, in almost 21 million households. Nearly two-thirds of the program participants are children, seniors age 60 and older, and the disabled.
Unfortunately, there are able-bodied Americans in the program that may not have the skills necessary to find a family-sustaining job or may have encountered roadblocks to a career that would put an end to living paycheck to paycheck.
We want to ensure that SNAP recipients have a chance to learn new skills and climb the rungs on the ladder of opportunity. I believe this can be achieved by providing states the resources to arm recipients with the soft skills, certifications, and education necessary to succeed in today's economy.
Our proposal expands funding for these life-changing programs by closing loopholes and improving opportunities for low-income individuals. In an effort to ensure the program is serving those truly in need, all recipients must meet a basic asset test.
But for the first time in decades, our bill modernizes and improves the asset, vehicle and savings allowances, which are part of the overall benefit eligibility process. Households without an elderly or disabled member can exclude the first $7,000 from their asset determination while households with an elderly or disabled member can exclude the first $12,000.
These numbers, increased from $2,000 and $3,000 respectively, do not consider things like an individual's home or personal property. Additionally, for the first time, an additional $2,000 held in a savings account is also excluded. This encourages savings and helps vulnerable households have an additional resource in the event of an emergency.
Lastly, this bill excludes the first $12,000 of a vehicle - up from $4,650 - furthering the point that a household should not be penalized for having a reliable vehicle to get to appointments or employment.
Current law includes work requirements for SNAP recipients, however they are vague and unenforceable, and contain numerous exemptions for work-capable individuals that states have been quick to waive.
This bill is about improving opportunities for individuals who have been marginalized by a lack of education or employment prospects. By doing this, SNAP will provide immediate food assistance in the short-term, while also empowering individuals to take a hold of their futures in hopes of lifting themselves out of poverty.
Despite the criticism of some, exemptions will remain in place for nearly 80 percent of SNAP recipients, including our most vulnerable: children, seniors, and the disabled. Detractors may be eager to mischaracterize these efforts, but what we know is that you can't feed your way out of poverty.
As a father whose young family benefited from WIC, I am an example - not the exception - that there are many pathways to success in life.
Sometimes we need the safety net to help us through difficult times and get back on our feet.
The economy is on the uptick, unemployment is at its lowest in nearly two decades, and we have a great opportunity to fundamentally change the way we assist Americans to seize opportunity and upward mobility. I look forward to getting this done.
U.S. Rep. Glenn "GT" Thompson, a Republican, represents Pennsylvania's 5th Congressional District. He is vice chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.