By JAN DEMERS
She is a single mom. Her daughter was 7 years old and stood by her side. They were about to leave the CVOEO Food Shelf when staff overheard the little girl say to her mom in a whisper: “You forgot to pay.”
Then, with a smile that changed our world, she said: “Mom, we’ve got to come to this grocery store more often.”
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP, or more commonly known simply as “food stamps” – is part of the Federal Farm Bill and it is in danger of being decimated by people who don’t have to worry about paying their grocery bills.
Decisions are being made in Washington, D.C. by people who can choose among chicken and beef, fish and the freshest of vegetables, not by people who go into a food shelf and are limited by what is on the shelves, who count every penny, who often have to choose between purchasing food and paying rent.
SNAP began in 1933 as a form of relief during the Great Depression. Food stamps were formalized in 1939 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. President Kennedy strengthened the program in 1961. The need was still great.
In 1991, the program was cut. In 2000, the Food Stamp Program was expanded again – the EBT card was introduced and with it more respect for those using these benefits. That year qualified immigrants also were eligible as were some children under 18. In 2014, new provisions to enhance nutrition were introduced.
Today, one of the battles in Washington is a battle over food: Who gets it? Who deserves it? Who doesn’t need it?
Vermont’s Congressional delegation led by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is fighting to maintain benefits that will feed those in poverty. Others are pushing to reduce or eliminate that source of nourishment for children, the disabled, elderly and for those who care for them.
“In the richest nation in the world, no one should have to struggle to put food on their table,” Sen. Leahy said last month, arguing that the House bill would “increase food insecurity” to the detriment of both families and farmers.
In Vermont, SNAP is our 3Squares Vermont Program or Food Stamps. Eligibility is based on 185 percent of the federal poverty level with the benefit amount varying by household size, income, and expenses. An average monthly benefit per household is about $235.
Still we see children eating the food just gathered from food shelf shelves even before they leave to go outside. They come through the doors at CVOEO hungry.
The state of Vermont has supported the SNAP Program with outreach efforts and with the Farm to Family coupons to get fresh fruits and vegetables from the farmer’s markets onto the tables of Vermonters. CVOEO has supported the Seed to Seedlings program to promote gardens in backyards, in window boxes, and throughout our community.
In “the richest nation in the world” there is enough food for all. That decision should be settled.
Jan F. Demers, is executive director of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity; 862-2771 ext. 740, firstname.lastname@example.org.