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Federal budget calls for big changes to SNAP program

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Farm industry members talk with U.S. Representatives during the House Ag Listening Session at Richland Community College last August.

BLOOMINGTON — President Trump’s federal budget proposal has introduced sweeping changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as SNAP, including work requirements for recipients and a food package delivery system to replace a benefit card used at grocery stores.

If Congress focuses on entitlement or welfare reform and other assistance programs, it begins to involve SNAP, which is the largest part of the Farm Bill. It also is one of the most politically charged parts of recent farm bills, said Jonathan Coppess, director of the Gardner Agriculture Policy Program at the University of Illinois-Urbana.

In 2013, the Farm Bill was defeated in the U.S. House because lawmakers could not agree on what should be included in the SNAP program due to partisan politics, he said.

Coppess said he is watching is to see if Congress will experience “such a hostile political environment that the bill can’t pass.”

“I was really nervous if that was the program Congress wanted to take, that takes a lot out of a Farm Bill,” Coppess said. “If that is the conversation, it gets tough to write a Farm Bill and the programs for the Farm Bill.”

SNAP provides more than 44 million Americans with assistance to buy food. The program cost $70 billion in 2017 and is administered by the USDA. The program also makes fruits and vegetables available to schools and senior citizens.

The budget proposal recently released by the Trump administration includes $213 billion in cuts to SNAP programs over the next 10 years. The administration’s idea is to provide SNAP recipients with a “USDA Foods package,” instead of money on a link card to purchase food of their choice.

The package would include "shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit and vegetables,” according to the budget. The goal, the administration said, is that these prepackaged food items would be cheaper than giving people money to buy their own food.

The cost of SNAP benefits is always a contentious part of Farm Bill negotiations in Congress. GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan has indicated he would like to change and cut various federal entitlements like welfare and SNAP.

The Trump administration’s recent proposals to change SNAP will likely be a non-starter for Democrats, who do not want to risk reworking a program that has been effective in getting food to poor families and individuals.

A common criticism of SNAP is that not all recipients need the benefits and don’t buy food, said Jerry Pelz, executive director of the Northeast Community Fund that provides food and other services to low-income residents in  Decatur.

But the vast majority of people who qualify and receive SNAP benefits use them wisely, said Pelz, who works with such recipients every day. 

Most people use the program to supplement their food budgets, said Pelz, adding the benefits do not make up for the entirety of a family’s food budget. 

“It is a huge benefit. I think there are people who without it would be very stressed to be able to make ends meet as far as their food budget goes,” he said. | (217) 421-6949



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