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SNAP Hearings Show Divide Between Political Parties

by Ken Root

A long term examination of the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program draws fire from both sides as lawmakers prepare to write the Next Farm bill. The power is with republicans but passion is with democrats.

Texas Republican Mike Conaway announced the series of SNAP or Supplemental Nutrition hearings shortly after assuming the Agriculture committee’s chairmanship. Now, two years later, Conaway said he was wrapping up the review by examining food access issues and how they relate to SNAP recipients.

The motives behind the hearings were challenged in opening comments. The two sides couldn’t even agree on how many hearings they had conducted.

Committee Democrats used their opening statements to reiterate support for the program and say that the current system is functioning as intended. Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern, the ranking member on the panel’s nutrition subcommittee, issued a preemptive strike against any proposed effort to “radically change” SNAP in an upcoming farm bill.

“I have no idea what a Trump administration coupled with a Republican Congress means for the future of SNAP or other safety net programs,” he said. “I’m worried, quite frankly I’m terrified.”

“If next year, the Republican leadership wants to block grant or cut the program or put more hurdles in place to deny people a benefit to put food on their table – be prepared for one hell of a fight,” “Because this is a fight worth having.”

Later in the hearing, Conaway addressed some of those concerns, saying that the hearing series was meant to “get the policies right.”

“Some of my colleagues have argued passionately about what they won’t agree to next year,” Conaway said. “This series of hearings was done simply to find out what’s working and what’s not working. It was never intended to cut SNAP or to do anything but improve it.”

Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Conaway also touched on another controversial aspect of this debate: Whether to split off nutrition assistance programs from the rest of the farm bill. Conaway said he was “committed to getting both sides of the farm bill extended on time.”

“If it’s together, great; If it’s separate, great,” Conaway said. “The process is to be determined.”