WASHINGTON — A U.S. Department of Agriculture plan to cut off food stamp eligibility for some adults with no dependents could severely hurt veterans, the chairman of a House subcommittee said Thursday, but a USDA official said the program could lead to veterans being more encouraged to get jobs.
The Department of Agriculture plans to implement more regulations Feb 1 on state- administered waivers for able-bodied adults aged 18 to 49 without dependents to continue receiving benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program . The Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held a hearing to review the resources available to address food insecurity among veterans and their families.
“This committee is concerned that decisions are being made regarding these resources without thoroughly considering the impact on veterans,” Chairman Mike Levin, D-Calif., whose district represents San Diego County, a major hub for military and veterans, said in his opening remarks. “This subcommittee and Congress as a whole need to know how USDA considered the effects as they proposed regulatory changes, limiting access to nutrition programs last year.”
Pamilyn Miller, administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service, defended the changes, citing strong economic conditions that allow people to “realize their full potential.”
“There are more jobs opening than those who are seeking jobs,” Miller said. “We are hopeful that, if we can engage this population, we can really put them on a path towards a better future.”
Some Republicans supported Miller’s position, arguing that those classified as able-bodied adults without dependents ought to be able to get jobs.
“For a veteran that is not disabled, especially a veteran that is not disabled that doesn’t have dependents, the best thing we can do for that veteran is to get them a good job,” Rep. Andy Barr, R- Ky. “Let’s face it: the economy is doing really, really well right now, and we have a million more job openings in this country than we have unemployed people.”
But others on the committee said the changes to SNAP were made without taking into account the number of veterans who would be affected.
Rep. Bergman, R- Mich., said the USDA, Veterans Affairs Department and Pentagon should collect data to determine how many veterans face food insecurity.
“This is actually quite an opportunity for DOD, VA, USDA and whoever else to collaborate on the sharing of data as it relates to all men and women who served in uniform,” Bergman said.
Rep. Kathleen Rice, D- N.Y., claimed that the new restrictions are “nothing short of un-American and inhumane.”
“I can’t believe we are sitting here talking about this,” Rice said. “We should all be humiliated that we are talking about taking food away from any man or woman however able-bodied they may be.”
Josh Protas, vice president of public policy for MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, said that SNAP, especially for able-bodied adults without dependents, is a program that people use for only a period of time.
“SNAP is temporary assistance, and it works the way it was designed. Ideally, people get back to work, and SNAP is a stepping stone.”
Levin and Rep. Gus Bilirakis, the top Republican on the committee, agreed to schedule more hearings on veterans’ food insecurity.