Carol Gundlach: Protect SNAP to help thousands of Alabama veterans make ends meet

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Alabamians, like all Americans, take time on Veterans Day each year to honor those who have served our country and sacrificed to keep all of us free. But we should treat this holiday as more than a chance to say “thank you.” It also should be an occasion to reflect on our national obligation to provide veterans with the services and support they need to return to civilian life with dignity and security.

The unfortunate reality is that many people who served in our military struggle with hunger after they return home. About 26,000 Alabama veterans, or 8 percent of all veterans in the state, use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to help feed themselves and their families, according to a new study released Thursday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, D.C. Nationally, nearly 1.4 million veterans, representing 7 percent of all American veterans, receive assistance through SNAP, also known as food stamps.

SNAP is an essential tool to help these veterans feed their families, just as it fights hunger for tens of millions of other Americans. But a U.S. House proposal threatens to take this vital food assistance away from as many as 2 million people, including tens of thousands in Alabama.

The U.S. House and Senate have passed conflicting versions of the Farm Bill, the legislation that authorizes SNAP. The House version, for which six of Alabama’s seven House members voted, would impose harmful new SNAP “work requirements” that would take food away from many hungry families while doing little or nothing to help them find or keep work.

Fortunately, the bipartisan Senate bill – with support from Sens. Doug Jones and Richard Shelby – offers a better path. Unlike the House approach of creating punitive new barriers to SNAP, the Senate plan would strengthen core SNAP assistance. The Senate proposal also would make needed investments in employment and training services for seniors, homeless people, people with disabilities and other SNAP participants who face additional barriers to work.

Now the House and Senate must reconcile the differences between the two Farm Bills. Congress faces a choice between helping and hurting hungry people, including the veterans who could be devastated by the House version.

Veterans face many barriers as they re-enter the civilian labor force. Trying to find a civilian job while still in the military can be difficult, and veterans who come home with disabilities may face additional barriers to employment. SNAP is an especially critical lifeline for families including veterans with disabilities, which are more likely to struggle to put food on the table.

Young male veterans have higher rates of unemployment than do similarly situated civilian workers. While the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has programs to help these veterans gain skills and find stable employment, the VA programs are not necessarily aligned with the rigid one-size-fits-all work requirements proposed in the House Farm Bill. Should the House plan become law, many veterans would have to choose between getting the job help offered by the VA and keeping SNAP food assistance.

This Veterans Day, we should thank Alabama veterans for their service by supporting SNAP, a program that helps thousands of them put food on the table. We also should urge our members of Congress to pass a final Farm Bill with the Senate’s SNAP provisions. By protecting and strengthening SNAP, Congress can take an important step toward ensuring that no veteran goes hungry after serving our country.

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Carol Gundlach is a policy analyst for Alabama Arise, a nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition of congregations, organizations and individuals promoting public policies to improve the lives of low-income Alabamians. Email: carol@alarise.org.

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