Passage of Farm Bill is good news for families using food assistance

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The passage of the new Farm Bill is welcomed news for hundreds of thousands of Alabamians who need a little help to put food on the table. Earlier this month, lawmakers decided to make the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program more efficient and effective.

Nine Hundred Thousand Alabamians depend on the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps, to fill in the gap.

"Just because they have worked, does not mean they can afford enough food," Robyn Hyden, Alabama Arise Executive Director, said.

Alabama Arise said 900,000 Alabamians receiving food assistance does not surprise them.

"It's actually down quite a lot," Hyden said. "During and after the recession, quite a lot of Alabamians were regularly on SNAP and that number has continued to decline steadily as the economy improves."

In order for a family of four to receive help, the household income must be around $2,400 per month. Unless exempt from working, each person in your house must try to get a job, not quit one voluntarily, reduce hours at the job nor turn down a suitable job.

"People who receive SNAP have to re-certify their eligibility frequently, and able-bodied adults without children do have to enroll in job training or work activities in order to receive SNAP for more than a limited amount of time," Hyden said.

People in this state are encouraged by the unemployment rate, which is below four percent. The Alabama Department of Labor reports less than 88,000 unemployed people as of November - far less than the amount of people on SNAP.

"We are seeing the benefits of increased employment, but there are still people looking for work and people looking for better-paying jobs," Hyden said.

Alabama ranks #11 in the country for most food stamp recipients, according to a national database. Thirteen percent of households in Huntsville use food assistance.

"Most of the people on SNAP, currently, are disabled adults, elderly adults, and families with children," Hyden explained. "So, all of these families, knowing that they have this first line of defense, is a huge relief."

Annually, across the US, reports show more than $700 million is misspent within the program. The new Farm Bill has plans in place to specifically address program fraud.

For example, ensuring people don't collect assistance from different states, and ensuring groups of people aren't collecting more than they're entitled. State advocates say Alabama's already moving in the right direction.

"Alabama has one of the nation's most efficient SNAP Programs," Hyden said. "We have one of the lowest rates of any program, and because of that, we've received significant financial incentives to continue that level of efficiency."

You can read more about the Farm Bill here.

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