Making sure people are fed is important, but is SNAP the best way to help people?
June 9, 2017
When I travel the Third District, one of the most common questions I receive from Nebraskans is whether I have hope for Republicans and Democrats to come together and get things done. I do have examples of bipartisanship to cite, as it occurs more often in Congress than people think, but the overall tone in our country must change to allow for meaningful work to take place.
As an example, I recently went on NPR to talk about President Trump's budget proposal. I saw the interview as an opportunity to explain the importance of crop insurance to food security to urban listeners who are not frequently engaged on the issue. After briefly discussing the need to prevent cuts to crop insurance, the conversation shifted to food stamps.
In response to the host's continual questioning on whether Americans are "entitled to eat," I said nutrition is essential and stressed the importance of caring for the vulnerable among us — and my belief there are multiple ways to do so. Still, attacks from the media and activists followed because I did not label food an entitlement or agree with the host on food stamps being the "ultimate guarantor."
Of course, everyone needs to eat, and I have long been concerned about the cost of food. This is one of the main reasons as co-chairman of the Modern Agriculture Caucus, I have championed innovations which help to make food affordable and accessible to more people.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a necessary safety net to help those in need, but when more working-age adults are receiving benefits than low-income households with children and seniors, we know the program needs to be reformed. "Entitled" is a loaded word when speaking about government programs because it has come to mean someone is guaranteed to receive a benefit regardless of circumstances. This is how we ended up with the federal government handing out SNAP benefits to tens of millions of Americans every month.
Simply putting more and more people on food stamps is not a long-term solution. We need to take a closer look at the program to determine how we can best assist those who need it while also ensuring we do not incentivize Americans to depend on the government indefinitely.
However, my larger concern about this situation is it exemplifies why our country has been unable to come together to address the pressing issues we face. The "gotcha" mentality rampant in politics divides us and prevents the real, substantive conversations we so desperately need.
None of my colleagues, Republicans or Democrats, want to see Americans go hungry. We disagree on the best ways to ensure people have access to nutritious food, but we all share the desire to help those in need. The bickering around these kinds of topics for political gain must end to make way for actual collaboration on policies which can improve Americans' lives.
My goal in Congress remains being a solution-oriented representative who listens and looks for common ground. I want to be part of bringing our country together, and I will continue this work in every way I can on behalf of Nebraskans. ❖
— Smith is a Republican U.S. Representative from Kansas.
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