CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A rally was held Wednesday outside of Capitol Market by various non-profit and faith groups regarding the direction of federal Farm Bills.
There are currently two farm bills that could be voted on by Congress; the Senate legislation authorizes funding for mental health services as well as research on organics. It also does not make any major changes in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The House of Representative’s farm bill seeks to reduce the number of people relying on SNAP, as well as add new work requirements for those who use the program. The bill would also impose new state mandates and roll back flexibility from previous legislation.
The groups at the Farmers Market said the possible passage of the House bill frightens them.
Gary Zuckett, the executive director of the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, helped organize the rally.
“We’re here to make a statement about the fact that the Senate version is truly a bipartisan, sort of normal version, of the Farm Bill that we would like to see rather than the House version,” he said. “We understand the House is going to try to pass their bill again as soon as Thursday or Friday, but we’re hoping that the Senate version prevails because it is much more humanitarian.”
Farm bills were created during the Great Depression to give aid to farmers who were struggling due to excess crop supplies, creating low prices and ensuring a food shortage in the United States would not happen The Agriculture Adjustment Act was the first farm bill passed by Congress in 1933 as a part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Caitlin Cook, the communications director at the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, said the Senate version of the bill stays true to its roots.
“It’s part of American values,” she said. “So, in my opinion, the fact that the Senate bill protects and strengthens SNAP is the way to go.”
Speaking at the rally, Cook said SNAP is crucial to West Virginia and its citizens.
“One in eight Americans uses SNAP. In West Virginia we are talking about more than 81,000 workers, more than 130,000 kids, 13,000 veterans, 30,000 seniors as well as around 61,000 disabled persons that use this program,” she said.
Cook said she wants lawmakers to oppose any amendments that would cut SNAP or make harmful changes to the program.
“SNAP keeps more than eight million people out of poverty, including nearly four million children,” she said. “We urge the Senate Agricultural Committee to pass this Senate bipartisan farm bill with no harmful reductions to snap, and we call on all our senators, especially Senator Capito and Manchin, to follow the committee’s lead in protecting SNAP.”
Chantal Fields, the executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, said the House bill could be damaging to Americans’ health.
“The harmful House bill would make it harder for more than two million people to put food on the table by taking away or cutting their benefits making people more unhealthy,” she said. “There is a long history in this country of bipartisan commitment to improving SNAP and ensuring that struggling families across the country have enough to eat.”
Fields said there are many health issues that can arise when one’s food options are limited.
“Good health and food security are inextricably linked,” she said. “Without the ability to afford healthy food and to follow a nutritional diet, recommended by their doctor, a person cannot manage diabetes, they cannot manage heart disease, they cannot manage obesity and they certainly cannot fight cancer.”
Angela Spencer attended the rally because she wanted to explain the way SNAP has helped her; Spencer is a recovering drug addict and is participating in Kanawha County Drug Court’s 18-month rehabilitation program.
She explained that with the program, there are three phases to recovery. In the first phase, Spencer is not allowed to work and only part-time in the second phase. Because of this, Spencer’s husband is the only income to their family of five.
“It’s very hard for us to get by. Some months we can barely the mortgage payment and the utilities let alone put food on the table,” she said. “SNAP has been invaluable to us. It feeds my kids while I’m working on fixing my life so that I can be a better mother to them and a better person in general.”
Cook said you should not hesitate to call your elected officials to voice concerns.
“It is never too early to reach out to your representatives to protect food assistance for millions of struggling Americans,” she said.
Story by Jordyn Johnson