Courtney Boyd: Anti-SNAP bills would harm small farms, WV economy
By Courtney Boyd // Feb 15, 2018
This year, there are countless bills across the U.S. aimed at austerity measures, in what is touted as a target of welfare fraud. One such bill here in West Virginia is House Bill 4001, that seeks to remove the possibility for county waivers of work requirements, even in places where there are few job opportunities and lack of transportation, while also requiring asset testing for all members of the household for SNAP recipients. This bill and others like it are damaging to the local farm economy, small farmers, grocery stores and our community churches and food pantries.
Waivers for work requirements were initially requested as a result of the 2008 economic crisis. While other states have recovered more quickly, the rural nature of West Virginia has made it slower to bounce back. This slow recovery has prompted the continuance of waived work requirements.
In 2016, however, the Department of Health and Human Resources implemented a nine-county pilot project in the nine wealthiest counties of West Virginia that reinstated work requirements for “able-bodied adults.” As a result, over 5,000 West Virginians were removed from the SNAP register. No data was collected by the DHHR to determine why the caseload decreased. It is unknown if this group is working and now ineligible to receive benefits, if they are relying on their local food pantry more often or if they are even still living in the state.
Many of us are privileged enough to not worry about where our next meal is coming from and may not understand the struggle to find basic resources. The groups that work everyday to feed, clothe and house our community members do understand this, and they make it clear that there are more and more people coming to them in need.
A study conducted by West Virginia University Foodlink revealed that, after the implementation of the nine-county pilot project, food pantries and soup kitchens in those areas showed a 30 percent increased in demand for food.
Other factors can influence this, including unemployment rates and rising costs of living, but it can’t be overlooked that food banks and places of worship are working harder to support their communities, while legislation like H.B. 4001 is creating more barriers that limit support for people who desperately need it.
A West Virginia Public Broadcasting investigative report recently illustrated the lack of grocery store access across the region, as more and more grocers shut their doors and leave residents with few options for healthy food. Remaining grocery stores in West Virginia could be further affected by the decreased revenue that results from the changes proposed in H.B. 4001. This could be devastating for rural communities and residents who lack access to transportation as grocery and convenience stores may have to close their doors.
At the Food & Farm Coalition, we want to grow West Virginia’s food economy. H.B. 4001 does not grow our economy, and it actually hinders growth by limiting the food dollars that are spent, roughly $13 million in just the nine-county pilot region, according to the WVU’s Foodlink.
This ultimately limits the amount of agricultural product being purchased. To quote Jefferson County farmer Leslie Randall: “Farmers work long hours and the profit margins are tight, but SNAP helps us as much as it helps our hungry neighbors. In 2016, $6,866 was spent at the Charles Town Farmers’ Market through this program. That’s just one instance of the many farmers’ markets across the state where money is going straight to the farmers.”
At a time when we need all the help we can get to boost our local economy, provide jobs and income for farmers and other small businesses and support our vulnerable populations, H.B. 4001 would be a mistake for the people of West Virginia. With this effort to fight against “fraud,” which is loosely and inaccurately portrayed, we are spending money and losing federal SNAP dollars at the same time. That ultimately means less money and effort going toward initiatives that diversify our economy and improve the lives of West Virginians.