Farm Bill threatens food supply for low-income veterans

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Capital News Service

LANSING — Veterans using food stamps in Michigan may lose them under the proposed federal Farm Bill, experts say.

The legislation, renewed every 5 years, regulates national forestry, agriculture and nutrition policy — including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP or food stamps. The most recent version of the Farm Bill expired in September. Congress is set to take up the update soon.

Under the proposed updated work requirements, some veterans who use food stamps would not qualify for them, said Julie Cassidy, a senior policy analyst for the Michigan League for Public Policy. The problem has been overlooked because people don’t often associate veterans with food insecurity, she said.

Proposed work requirements would require working-age adults to register for work and accept jobs if offered, according to the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency. Non-parents between the ages of 18 and 49 would need to work 20 hours a week to receive SNAP benefits.

Veterans who receive 100 percent disability from Veterans Affairs would be exempt from these work requirements. But veterans with less than 100 percent disability would not, said Erika Hoover, a quality of life analyst for the Veterans Affairs Agency.  

Also, veterans who are participating in Veterans Affairs-sponsored training programs would have to work yet another 20 hours a week to qualify for SNAP.  

In Michigan, 9 percent of food stamps recipients are veterans, Cassidy said. Veterans may need food stamps for several reasons, including service-related disabilities leading to unemployment.

The work requirements can harm veterans who struggle to find employment due to service-related disabilities, Cassidy said. They can also hurt National Guardsmen.

Some National Guardsmen are unemployed before a deployment, Cassidy said. If a Guardsman is injured while overseas, his or her chances of finding a job back home go down.

“This adds the struggles of being unemployed to the trauma of a deployment,” Cassidy said.

Older veterans may have trouble finding employment and adjusting to civilian life after active duty, Hoover said. Also, veterans who are underpaid for their work or are in job training programs may be using food stamps to provide for themselves and their families.

The 9 percent of Michigan food stamp recipients who are veterans total 50,000 people, Hoover said. Of those, 21 percent reported having a service-related disability, 25 percent are between the ages of 50 and 59, and 40 percent are seniors.

The updated Farm Bill could also hurt veterans with new paperwork requirements, Hoover said. Food stamps recipients would have to document utility expenses, hours worked per month and their assets. That would discourage many poor people, including veterans, from applying for food assistance, Hoover said.

Not having enough food is a nationwide problem among veterans, said Shelley Kimball, the research director for the Military Family Advisory Network. As many as 15 percent of veterans nationwide are food insecure, according to a survey last March by the network, a nonprofit organization that connects military families to resources.

“The fact that any veteran in this country is having trouble getting food is shocking to me,” Kimball said. “We often think that these issues don’t affect them, because of either a culture of resilience or the idea that they will be taken care of, but they still suffer from food insecurity.”

The Advisory Network’s survey measured the living conditions of military families, nationally, including parents of veterans, surviving families and divorced spouses. Fifteen percent of the families surveyed said they struggled to get enough food.

Former military and veteran retirees and their families nationally make up 17.5 percent of  food-insecure veterans, while 13 percent are active duty families, Kimball said.

Challenges facing veterans include not knowing what resources are available, getting rides to places that could help and being unable to make appointments at those places.

Veterans also reported trouble with the constant moving of military life and having unemployed spouses, Kimball said.

Volunteering with local food banks and churches can help struggling veterans, Kimball said. When veterans struggle, they turn to their communities, friends and families.

Local Veterans Affairs offices may be doing smaller, community-based programs, such as, food banks and food drives as well, Kimball said.

“We see a lot of smaller outlets that do great work and take care of veterans better than some larger organizations,” Kimball said.

To better serve food-insecure veterans, more research must be done to pinpoint their locations and ranks, Kimball said. The Department of Defense must continue to provide for veterans in a timely manner.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, recently announced that the U.S. Senate and House have agreed on some of the Farm Bills contents, but those contents are not yet public.

Stabenow did not return a request for comments. A report on the bill was expected on Dec. 6, according to the Veterans Affairs Agency, but was postponed due to the funeral for former President George H. W. Bush.


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