Farm Bill: Part of CO's Lifeline for Families, Economy
PHOTO: Chefs encouraging protection of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
July 9, 2012
DENVER - The Farm Bill is not just for farmers. Government statistics show about 65 percent of the money in the bill, which is up for debate in the U.S. House this week, goes to help families put food on the table.
Kathy Underhill sees the effect of the bill firsthand, as executive director of Hunger Free Colorado. She says programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, or 'SNAP,' formerly known as food stamps, can be a lifeline for people who are struggling in tough economic times.
"If we don't spend it on providing basic nutrition for our citizenry, what else is more important than that? If not that, then what? What is more important than meeting some basic human needs?"
Critics of food stamps say SNAP is just another entitlement program the country can't afford, and that it creates a culture of dependency. Underhill says that isn't the case: in Colorado, the average family gets SNAP benefits for just 10 months.
She says SNAP also creates good jobs at supermarkets, numbering about 250 in Colorado.
Kyle Legleiter, public policy officer with the Colorado Health Foundation, says the assistance programs are designed to work counter to the economic cycle, declining when the economy is good, and increasing when it's bad.
"Colorado actually has the fastest-growing rate of childhood hunger in the country. We know that the SNAP program served over 450,000 Coloradans in 2011 alone, so it really is the cornerstone of the safety net."
Kathy Underhill says that in Colorado, only half the families who could qualify for assistance use it, and she thinks that may be because, until recently, the benefits application was a discouragingly long form.
"I can get a federal firearm permit by filling out a two-page application, but if I need food, it's 26 pages."
The state recently worked to streamline that application, reducing it to eight pages.
In addition to the assistance programs, this year's Farm Bill has a provision to help battle so-called "food deserts" - urban or rural communities without supermarkets - through an incentive to get fresh foods into those communities.
The House Agriculture Committee is scheduled to take up the Farm Bill on July 11. The Senate has already approved a version of the measure.
Farm Bill provisions are at www.iatp.org.