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City-wide food drive

Basket-loads of donated food collected during the annual Thompson Distributing City-Wide Food Drive wait to be sorted and stacked by a large group of volunteers working at the Butte Emergency Food Bank. The food bank expects to exceed the 75,000 pounds of food donations collected last year.

This month, Congress passed a significant overhaul to our tax system and we in Montana are left wondering what it will mean for us. As members of the Montana Food Security Council, we cannot help but fear the impact on our most vulnerable citizens. We believe that several tenets of the plan will worsen food insecurity in our state.

Most low- and middle-income families in the U.S. will see little benefit, with many even experiencing tax increases by the end of the decade. The legislation sets up likely cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other important programs by increasing the federal deficit by an expected $1.4 trillion-$1.5 trillion over the next decade.

The idea that tax cuts will boost job creation and stimulate the economy is a hefty gamble considering the lack of sound economic data to support this theory. We are already hearing from House and Senate leadership that cuts to social assistance programs such as SNAP, Medicare or Medicaid will be used to help "pay for" the tax plan.

Rather than setting up cuts to programs like SNAP, we should be supporting programs that make a real difference in Montana. SNAP effectively reduces hunger; improving health outcomes, educational attainment and increasing productivity. The program remains crucial as 1 in 8 Montanans struggle with hunger, including 45,000 children.

Approximately 1 in 5 Montana kids receive SNAP, ensuring they get the nourishment they need to grow and succeed. Two-thirds of Montana SNAP participants are children, seniors or individuals with disabilities. SNAP also helps nearly 40,000 low-wage workers make ends meet in Montana, including thousands of home healthcare workers, cashiers and teacher assistants.

The tax plan will also likely lead to cuts at the state level at a time when Montana is already reeling from drastic budget cuts. In our recent special session, our state cut $76 million from crucial programs and services, including the closure of half of Montana’s Offices of Public Assistance. We will see additional state budget woes in Montana due to the new federal tax plan.

And finally, the tax plan includes a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate, which requires that people get health insurance. This mandate is a key component of the ACA, helping bring more people into the insurance market and lowering costs for everyone. Repealing the individual mandate will raise premiums for millions of people and cause uncertainty and instability in the individual health insurance market.

This tax plan has the wrong priorities. We are disappointed with those members of Congress who supported this tax plan, which was not only a missed opportunity to truly support low- and middle-income families, but puts programs that keep our communities strong at risk.

We encourage Montanans concerned about the tax plan and protecting programs such as SNAP to contact our delegation. Let our policymakers know that it will be unacceptable to use deficit increases due to this tax plan as an excuse to cut vital programs. Call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to connect with all three offices.

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This opinion is signed by the advocacy committee of the Montana Food Security Council: Amanda Cahill, Missoula; Aaron Brock, executive director, Missoula Food Bank; Lacy Stephens, Bozeman; Lorianne Burhop, chief policy officer, Montana Food Bank Network; and Paul Miller, board member, Montana Food Bank Network.

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