Brattleboro Reformer, March 6, 2008: Strong farm bill would protect children in poverty

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Thursday, March 6

While thousands of Vermonters worry about how they will feed their families in the face of rising fuel prices and a weakening economy, Congress and the Administration continue to spar over Farm Bill funding. The Farm Bill, re-authorized every five years, contains funding for some of the country’s most important nutrition assistance programs. As a result, the fate of 54,000 low-income Vermonters who rely on the Food Stamp Program to help their families stay healthy and well-nourished rests in the hands of Washington’s decision makers.

Although Congress has taken some recent action to give the economy a temporary boost, much more needs to be done to ensure the long-term stability of low-income families. Working through the political impasse to provide meaningful support for food stamps and other critical nutrition programs in the Farm Bill is an essential place to start.

Currently, lawmakers and the President are divided over how to find the $11.5 billion over ten years that the House approved to combat hunger in the U.S. Now is the time to put aside differences and offer decisive action to strengthen the nutrition safety net for struggling American families.



Food Stamp Program is a critical lifeline for millions of Americans earning low wages and struggling to make ends meet. Studies show that low-income children living in households that receive food stamps are healthier, perform better in school, are less likely to act out and have a lower rate of obesity.

However, because program benefits have failed to keep pace with need, Vermonters are finding it increasingly difficult to purchase a decent diet with food stamps. The 2007 Vermonter Poll indicated that cost is barrier to a nutritious diet for one third of Vermonters – a fact that has repercussions for chronic disease and health care costs. While food prices are rising rapidly, food stamps provide a mere 98 cents per meal to the average Vermont recipient. The minimum benefit has held steady at $10 per month for the past 30 years. And, most families in crisis can’t apply for food stamps until all but $2000 of their assets are gone. Strengthening the program to address these gaps is simply the right thing to do.

It is essential that Congress also recognize that the benefits of adequately funding the Food Stamp Program extend beyond the individual to the overall health of Vermont’s economy. The added buying power that food stamps provide to low-income families has a significant effect on our local businesses and farmers. The USDA tells us that every food stamp dollar spent generates $1.84 in economic activity. This amounts to an additional $99 million in economic stimulus in one year alone. This fact, highlighted by advocates of the disadvantaged, is echoed by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and economists on both sides of the political spectrum.

As the largest child nutrition program in the country, the benefits of the Food Stamp Program are wide and far-reaching. In the face of a weakening economy, Congress must take steps now to lend a hand to those in need, by passing a Farm Bill that fully funds vital improvements in food stamps and emergency food assistance

Nothing could be more basic. And nothing could provide a quicker stimulus to an economy that is no longer working for many Vermont families.

Doug Racine is Senator from Chittenden County and Co-Chair of the Vermont Child Poverty Commission.

Ann Pugh is a Representative from Chittenden County, and Co-Chair of the Vermont Child Poverty Council, and a member of the Chittenden County Hunger Council.

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