WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – Federal officials told Congress this week that proposed changes to the food stamp program did not consider the impact on veterans.
More than a million low-income veterans depend on SNAP to feed their families.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture plan would narrow who would be eligible for the program, which some lawmakers say would make it harder for veterans to qualify and leave even more hungry.
Before the new rule takes effect on April 1, a House committee questioned the agency if it made the right choice.
“This committee is concerned that decisions are being made regarding these resources without thoroughly considering the impact on veterans,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Levin (D – California).
A new USDA rule will force states to tighten SNAP work requirements, which means fewer people, including veterans, will qualify.
“We don’t have specific datasets on veterans,” said Pam Miller, USDA Food and Nutrition Service Administrator.
Miller says about 3% of SNAP recipients are veterans, but because veteran status isn’t part of the application there’s no easy way to know who they are. That’s something that concerns lawmakers.
“So veterans have no significance, additional importance to you given their service to our nation where even a phone call to VA was warranted?” said Rep. Levin.
“We certainly want to make sure we’re serving all low-income Americans, including veterans,” said Miller.
“But that’s a no? You never contacted VA?” Rep. Levin asked.
“We did not contact VA,” replied Miller.
Lawmakers also made the argument that hunger leads to other health issues, particularly a growing epidemic facing veterans…suicide.
“Food insecurity can be a contributing factor that can be detrimental to a person’s mental health,” said U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R – Florida).
That’s why VA officials say they want to identify more veterans at risk for hunger and connect them with resources like SNAP.
Congress has to approve any changes to the SNAP application. A provision in the 2018 Farm Bill would have added a veteran status, but it was ultimately removed.
Miller said USDA may conduct a survey that would be able to collect similar data.