YAKIMA — An official with a federal agency that manages food stamps said Wednesday that more and more recipients are employed while still qualifying for help feeding themselves and their families.
But a fight over funding levels for the program — which makes up as much as 80 percent of the Farm Bill — has stalled a renewal of the legislation.
Kevin Concannon, the undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that the rise of the working poor makes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program even more important.
“I think that’s often not understood, or the public may not realize that,” said Concannon of SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program. Concannon routinely calls reporters to stump for the 15 health and nutrition programs his office administers.
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, said the SNAP program should be reformed to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse.
“For instance,” his spokesman Neal Kirby wrote in an email, Hastings would like to see commonsense provisions included in the final bill to crack down on abuses by states, like Washington, which several years ago infamously mailed $1 heating assistance checks to thousands of residents so they could qualify for SNAP, even though they earned more than the nationally set income limit for the program.”
“In addition, states are currently not required to verify that payments are not going to deceased individuals, or that beneficiaries are not receiving benefits from more than one state,” Kirby wrote.
Yakima County has a disproportionate share of SNAP clients.
Last April, 71,798 Yakima County residents received SNAP benefits, accounting for 6.4 percent of the state’s clients and 29 percent of the county’s overall population.
Concannon said in the 1980s, only 15 percent of food stamp recipients held paying jobs. Today, it’s about 30 percent.
SNAP payments also stimulate farm-based economies by making it possible for people to purchase fruits and vegetables, he said. About 4,000 farmers markets across the nation now accept SNAP credits, he said.
For months, the food assistance program was one of the most controversial aspects of the U.S. Farm Bill, the policy that governs everything from agricultural research to international trade.
The bill passes every five years or so, but Congress failed to agree on a Farm Bill in 2013, allowing the 2008 version to expire.
Lawmakers have extended many of the provisions until Jan. 31, but if an agreement does not happen by then, the government automatically would revert to a 1949 version of the Farm Bill that critics claim would have little relevance to today’s technology and economy.
Earlier this month, a committee spanning both the Democratic-led Senate and the Republican-controlled House reached a tentative agreement to cut about $9 billion from the SNAP program over 10 years.
That’s far shy of the House’s proposed $40 billion in cuts but more than twice that of the Senate’s $4 billion.
Now, disagreements over milk price protection seem to be holding up the Farm Bill, while country of origin labels are also still up for debate.
Kirby said Hastings is committed to protecting Central Washington dairy farmers in the final version of the bill.