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October 24, 2013

For Virginia’s Vets, Less Help on the Home Front

On November 1, more than 40,000 men and women from Virginia who have put their lives on the line for this country will have less support on the home front when it comes to putting food on the table for their families. That’s when a cut to the nation’s most effective hunger-fighting tool, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), goes into effect.

As part of the effort to ease hardship caused by the Great Recession and to boost the economy, Congress modestly increased SNAP in 2009. Although hundreds of thousands of Virginians continue to struggle and are unable to find work, this enhanced benefit ends October 31. The cut will impact all of the more than 900,000 Virginians who get help from SNAP to pay for groceries, about 40,000 of whom are veterans.

Veterans often face unique challenges when trying to find work, from skills that don’t translate easily to a civilian resume to service-related disabilities. Last month, unemployment among post-9/11 veterans climbed to 10.1 percent, according to Army Times.

On top of this scheduled decrease in assistance, the House is trying to drastically slash even more SNAP funding. In September, the House passed legislation that would cut $40 billion from SNAP over the next 10 years, which would put at risk food assistance for roughly 68,000 Virginians, including some veterans. The Senate, on the other hand, passed legislation earlier this year that would cut funding by just $4 billion over 10 years. Lawmakers are working out differences between the proposals as part of the Farm Bill.

Let’s hope the conferees stick to the Senate plan because the details of how the House bill gets its savings would mean tough days ahead for many Americans. For people without children, the House bill limits SNAP assistance to 3 months over a 3 year period and ties benefits to employment – find a job or enroll in a training program and you can keep your benefits – regardless of how high unemployment is or whether a training program is available. Similarly, a family with children as young as 1 year old could lose their SNAP assistance unless a parent is working at least 20 hours a week or enrolled in a training program, even if a space does not exist.

That means even if workers and families are desperately trying to find a job or access training but can’t for reasons beyond their control – like our struggling economy or lack of childcare – they could still be cut off. What’s more, the House bill provides no additional funding for employment and training services – many of which are already at full capacity – and actually cuts this funding for recipients without children.

Our veterans are courageous, hard-working people who want to provide for their families. Virginia lawmakers should work to strengthen the state’s safety net to help stabilize families and communities facing hard times, not cut holes in it.

–Jeff Connor-Naylor, Program Coordinator


The Commonwealth Institute

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