COMMENTARY: Failure of Farm Bill is a ‘missed opportunity’

For most of us, $1.40 is not much. In fact, when you walk up and down grocery store aisles shopping for milk, bread, or chicken, you realize just how far that goes — not very. Yet for those in need, $1.40, the average cost per meal on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is the difference between being nourished or going hungry.

No one knows that trade-off better than the 42 million people nationwide who rely on SNAP to help feed their families in times of transition — an average of 10 months per family.

Lisa Blunt Rochester

At its core, H.R. 2, the Farm Bill’s mission is two-fold — to help strengthen farming communities through programs like crop insurance and rural broadband, as well as helping families put food on the table through SNAP.

Agriculture affects all communities. It’s the food we eat, grow, and trade. I always say, “It’s urban, rural, and global,” and that’s why I fought hard to get on the House Agriculture Committee.

Once the GOP Farm Bill was released last month, I traveled across my state to hear from my constituents about the bill’s impact on Delaware. I met with farmers, emergency food providers, supermarket owners, and state agencies. I even attended a graduation ceremony for Delaware Wonder participants — one of 10 pilot programs authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill that is providing workforce training and pathways to employment for SNAP recipients.

But the conversation that surprised me the most was one I had recently with a father.

He shared how years ago SNAP and public housing allowed him and his wife to raise three healthy daughters. With these supports, this father was the first in his family to graduate from high school, college, and move out of poverty. He paid that debt back in multiple ways through service. He went on to become a social worker, a school administrator, and subsequently, was elected city council president.

The value of service was then passed down.

One daughter worked in the White House and is now a professor of social work at Rutgers University. The second daughter became an engineer and worked for the U.S. Army protecting our troops, and his eldest grew up to be a congresswoman — that dad is my dad.

Like millions of others, SNAP helped my family when we needed it most. Stories like ours are not often discussed but are an example of the difference access to affordable, nutritious food can make in supporting people during temporary hardships.

I ask my colleagues to consider if this bill really does get the policy right? Is it worth cutting $20 billion from SNAP — hurting children, seniors, and people with disabilities — to pay for an untested, severely underfunded program?

I firmly believe that this is a missed opportunity — the result of a flawed process that shut Democrats out. The good news is: It’s not too late to do what’s right.

By voting H.R. 2 down, we have a chance to go back to the drawing board, and craft a genuinely bipartisan Farm Bill. We can put forward legislation that tackles food insecurity and equips SNAP participants with the tools they need to earn a good living in today’s economy. The hopes, the dreams, the aspirations of 42 million people are in our hands. Let’s not let them down.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., is a member of the House Committee on Agriculture. On Friday, the House Republican Farm Bill failed to pass the House by a vote of 198-213.

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