An easy farm bill Fix to feed Americans in need

This month, the House and the Senate are working to pass their own versions of the farm bill. This primary goal of this legislation, approved once every five years, is to ensure the U.S. produces the food that America needs. Importantly, the farm bill also helps low-income families get enough to eat.

At our organization, which works to alleviate hunger and make healthy options more accessible to those served by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and people around the world, we see every day how hard life is for those suffering from hunger. We urge members to keep these people in mind as Congress works to pass the farm bill. There are 45 million of our fellow Americans – in cities and rural towns, young and old, from all races and ethnicities – who just don’t have enough to eat. They rely on SNAP to put food on the table.

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Those 45 million Americans include one of out of every four children in this country and more than 20,000 active-duty troops. It’s a big problem, but because of technology there are some easy ways to help those on SNAP put more food on the table, find good jobs, and get back on their feet.

Most of us can take out our phone and check our bank balance to know what we can afford to spend. It takes seconds. If you’re on SNAP, knowing your balance is even more critical. It lets SNAP recipients know when their – or their child’s – next meal will be.

But if you want to check your SNAP balance, your options include checking it with a computer – which most on SNAP don’t have – or calling a government hotline and going through a bunch of prompts. This doesn’t help a mother working to make ends meet, shuttling her kids to school, or caring for an elderly parent. It certainly isn’t effective if you’re already at the grocery store.

Congress can help these families by ensuring the farm bill provides another option. It’s a free app that allows those on SNAP to check their food stamp balance with their phone. There’s no cost to the user or taxpayers. The app helps those on SNAP get on average, one extra day of food every month, according to a study by Harvard economists. That’s one less day of hunger. One such app we’ve worked with, called Fresh EBT, is already helping 1 million people. 

We urge the members of Congress working on the farm bill to ensure that apps like this, among the first to serve the needy in our society, can help USDA and the state agencies that run SNAP serve their constituents.

Congress can fix this easily and without any taxpayer cost. All it needs to do is clarify that apps like this can be used by government agencies to serve those on SNAP. If the House and Senate don’t weigh in, big government contractors will use their power to stop things like Fresh EBT, and other apps like this that are in the public interest, hurting those who need help.

This is just one small piece of the farm bill debate, but surely we can all agree that low-income Americans deserve the freedom to be able to access their benefit information with whatever tools they choose.

We urge Congress to fix this by clearing up the gray area in the farm bill because helping feed all Americans, giving them choice, and enabling them to pull themselves up is exactly what the new law should do.

Dave Green is CEO of Feeding Children Everywhere, an Orlando-based non-profit working to create a hunger-free world.