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SNAP hearing focuses on military, senior populations

Republicans say a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work for all subpopulations of federal food assistance recipients.

Last year, the House Agriculture Committee began a review of the past, present and future of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), holding 10 hearings at the full committee and subcommittee level. The review started from a broad perspective but has narrowed in focus to examine such topics as the role of the charitable sector in fighting hunger and the use of evidence-based solutions to measure outcomes.

In its first hearing of 2016, the committee picked up where it left off, with a subcommittee hearing on Tuesday looking at challenges facing special populations. Seniors, veterans and active-duty military families each have unique needs. Speaking broadly, they are more vulnerable than other populations to illnesses and physical and mental impairments that affect their ability to be fully independent.

The subcommittee heard from a panel of witnesses who shared their firsthand experience with the everyday challenges these special populations face with functional limitations to access and prepare food.

Subcommittee chairwoman Jackie Walorski (R., Ind.) said as a member of the Armed Services and Veterans Affairs committees, she cares greatly about the active-duty military families and veterans. In her opening statement, she shared that between 2,000 and 20,000 military families are signed up for SNAP. However, a quirk in the eligibility calculation adds a needless complication to a family’s decisions on whether to live on a military base.

“The housing provided to a family living on a base does not count toward SNAP eligibility, which lowers their income and increases the benefit. On the other hand, the allowance that a family receives to live off a base does count toward eligibility, which raises their income and decreases the benefit. There are plenty of pros and cons that a military family must weigh as they decide whether or not to live on the base, but that shouldn’t be needlessly clouded by whether or not they get a higher SNAP benefit,” Walorski said.

“The SNAP program is an important tool that can serve our nation’s finest and provide our veterans with relief quickly and efficiently. There is still much work to be done to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of SNAP to better understand how to directly help special populations like our veterans and active-duty military, but today is a positive step forward in the right direction. Thank you to our witnesses for sharing with us your perspective on the many challenges these individuals face,” Walorski said in a statement after the hearing.

House Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway also noted that over the year review, SNAP “is a one-size-fits-all program that may not take into consideration certain subpopulations.”

He added, “Our seniors, veterans, active-duty military and other vulnerable citizens who rely on SNAP have diverse characteristics and needs that should be addressed accordingly. It will take a joint effort between the federal government and our private partners to make sure these needs are met. I look forward to continuing our review of SNAP to ensure the program can better serve these individuals.”

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