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Opinion | Grand Rapids Mayor: Leave harsh work rules out of SNAP farm bill

The City of Grand Rapids, and Michigan as a whole, have experienced strong economic growth in recent years, dropping Kent County’s unemployment rate to 2.9 percent and the state’s to 4.6 percent.

But not all area residents have benefited equally from this growth. That’s why I strongly support the lifeline that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) offers to those who still struggle to feed themselves and their families.

At least 21,200 children and more than 72,600 people in Kent County are food insecure, meaning they don’t have the resources to obtain enough food to live an active, healthy life. SNAP provides food assistance to 62,400 Kent County residents, including 28,800 children. Many of the 33,600 adults benefitting from SNAP in Kent County are seniors, veterans or people with disabilities.

I strongly support the Senate Farm Bill, known as the “Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018,” which helps parents with low-paying jobs put food on the table for their families. SNAP keeps 8 million people nationally out of poverty, including 4 million children. I oppose the House Farm Bill, which contains harsh work requirements that will leave many people ― including those temporarily between jobs ― without access to SNAP benefits, and which cuts back on the dollars spent on food assistance.

No city can thrive if its residents are hungry. The Senate bill goes a long way to protect the vulnerable in our communities, especially seniors, children, veterans and those with disabilities. Having access to healthy food is important, and farmers markets are one way to make that food available.

Letting SNAP recipients buy fruits, vegetables and other food from local vendors is a great way to help rural, urban and suburban residents work together for the benefit of all, and it’s another way to keep our communities vibrant.

For our neighbors facing financial hardship, SNAP often is the help they need to get through rough economic times. It enables them to feed their families while they work and get back on their feet.

I urge the House and Senate to agree on a version of the farm bill that follows the bipartisan path laid out by Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas. We need to strengthen the nation’s most effective anti-hunger program – not put up hurdles that could keep thousands of our friends and neighbors from getting the help they need.

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