CLAREMONT — Rep. Annie Kuster was at the McGlaflin farm in Claremont Tuesday in order to have a conversation with actual farmers about the next farm bill. The current Agricultural Act of 2014 will expire on Sept. 30 and if a new bill is not passed, its provisions will continue until something manages to pass in both houses of Congress. An $867 million farm bill failed in the House of Representatives on May 18. Farm bills are omnibus bills, which means they include funding many kinds of programs in some way related to food production. The bill failed in May because Republicans opposed immigration policy provisions and Democrats opposed the tightening of the already rigid work requirements for recipients of food stamps, formally known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
Granite State Progress Education Fund (GSPEF) Executive Director Zandra Brice Hawkins and Community Engagement Coordinator Nancy Glynn were in Claremont on Wednesday to speak with Sarah Breisch, a parent educator at the TLC Family Resource Center, and Cindy Stevens, executive director of the Claremont Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry. This was the third stop on a tour around the state that the GSPEF staff were making to touch base with nonprofits and plan for a response to any stop-gap legislation that might be passed regarding SNAP after the farm bill deadline passes.
Brice Hawkins is concerned that the House will go after SNAP. “The House and Senate versions of the farm bill were different,” she said. “In the House version 2 million people stand to lose benefits. Some 88,000 people have SNAP benefits in New Hampshire.” The Senate version of the farm bill includes provisions that focus on job training, something that Brice Hawkins endorses. There is also an emphasis on helping SNAP recipients to get onto better footing with their finances.
The GSPEF executive director is concerned that new legislation would throw up more barriers to recipients. Work requirements, she said, would entail monthly verifications that people were working or looking for work and recipients would need “wrap-around services” to go forward.
“You can't go to work if you can't focus on work because you're hungry,” Brice Hawkins said.
Breisch noted that most recipients of SNAP benefits — and she included herself — work already. Brice Hawkins said that in rural areas it is largely a “gig economy,” which make child care issues non-trivial. As most SNAP recipients already work, adding additional paperwork for them to do is not something people need.
Breisch said that adding work requirements to SNAP would make it more like the volume of paperwork that accompanies applying for and drawing on unemployment benefits, which she knew from experience is onerous. Brice Hawkins noted that adding all the paperwork is somewhat self-defeating as it creates an additional cost to the state simply to keep up with it.
Stevens said that a majority of those who use the soup kitchen also receive SNAP benefits. “We get an increased number of people toward the end of the month; we start seeing 30 to 40 more for dinner because their SNAp has run out. It is supposed to be supplemental.” She has been encouraging SNAP recipients to come to dinner at the soup kitchen more often earlier in the month to make their benefits last longer.
The broader purpose of GSPEF's visit was to check in with those who are providing direct support to people in the SNAP program. Because the program is supplemental, other sources of food and support exist to complement it. Stevens said that some people who are eligible for SNAP aren't enrolled because they were refused in the past and they simply haven't reapplied after their circumstances changed. The rules for receiving food at the food pantry are more lenient than those for receiving SNAP, so both those eligible and not with SNAP and those ineligible (however temporarily) may receive free food.
Brice Hawkins said that other programs that complement SNAP locally include the United Valley Interfaith Project, the Granite State Organizing Project, and MomsRising.
Editor's note: This text corrects the print version and an earlier online version, which stated that the soup kitchen rules were more lenient than SNAP's. The soup kitchen is open to anyone, no questions asked. The leniency refers to the food pantry.