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SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) works with Montana’s local food pantries and soup kitchens to combat hunger and help people through hard times. While two-thirds of SNAP participants are children, seniors and people with disabilities, SNAP also plays an important role for Montana’s workers, supplementing low wages and providing support between jobs. Too many jobs in our state have low wages, unpredictable schedules and no benefits. Fortunately, SNAP helps provide stability for 1 in 12 Montana workers, filling the gap when incomes fall short. In a typical month, nearly three-quarters of adults participating in SNAP have worked either that month or within a year of that month of participation.

Rather than improving economic security in our state, the Farm Bill currently being debated in the U.S. House would hurt families by taking food away from those who don’t prove every month that they work at least 20 hours per week or qualify for an exemption. This rule would apply not only to adults without dependents who already face strict work requirements, but would extend the rule to include parents of children aged 6 and over, and older adults between the ages of 50 and 60.

Under the bill’s “one strike and you’re out” provision, an individual who didn’t meet all the requirements in just one month of receiving SNAP would be kicked off the program for an entire year, unless they get a job that consistently provides enough hours or they requalify through an exemption such as disability. Despite claims to the contrary, the bill would harm those who are already working by requiring participants to regularly prove work hours or risk losing benefits. Workers would also be at risk of losing SNAP if their hours fluctuate. For example, a mother with two kids over age 6 who works as a cashier may be required to be available for work 40 hours each week; however, in reality her employer schedules her for only 25 hours one week and 18 hours the next. She could lose SNAP because she can’t get enough hours to meet the requirement, even though she works.

The House bill also places a costly new burden on our state by requiring states to create a massive new reporting system to track participants’ work hours and provide a work training slot to every eligible individual. Nationally, 3 million people each month would need a work training slot to fulfill the requirement. Implementation of this new jobs system is not only risky and untested, but also severely underfunded. The $1 billion in work program funding included in the bill would provide less than $30 per job training slot per month — far short of the amount required to offer meaningful training opportunities for participants across all corners of the state. Particularly given our state’s current budget crisis, Montana does not have the funds nor the administrative capacity to develop such a program.

We all agree that helping people who can work get well-paying jobs is good for families and the economy. However, SNAP policies included in the House Farm Bill are the wrong way to get there. Experience has shown that work requirements rarely lead to significant increases in employment and often result in increased poverty and hardship for those who lose benefits. Rather than supporting work, these policies take food from people when they need it most, while having little to no impact on employment in the long run.

Please join us in urging U.S. Congressman Greg Gianforte to oppose the House Farm Bill. We encourage U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines to work for a bipartisan Farm Bill that protects SNAP.

Lorianne Burhop is chief policy officer for the Montana Food Bank Network, and writes from Missoula. 

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