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Hernandez, 27, moved to Coon Rapids for the schools and the close-knit community. But finding work — particularly a job that can accommodate a child care schedule — hasn’t been easy.
“That little bit of money helps a lot,” she said. “It’s not enough, but it is a big help. I think about how it would be if I didn’t have the $200, and I really would be struggling worse than I am right now.”
Last session, a group of Minnesota lawmakers challenged one another to try to eat for a week on the average SNAP budget of $1.29 per meal. Not one of them made it.
Farm bill feud
The almost $1 trillion farm bill funds everything from agricultural subsidies to conservation programs, but the bulk of its budget — almost 80 percent — funds nutritional assistance to the states. And it’s the debate over food aid that repeatedly has derailed the bill and threatens to plunge U.S. agriculture policy back to Truman-era programs unless Congress can hammer out a compromise by the end of the year.
“Unfortunately, this has become a political issue and the solution will have to be political,” said Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee. He has been trying to get the Farm Bill reauthorized for the past two years.
The Senate has proposed a far more modest $4 billion cut to the SNAP program. The House split farm aid and food aid into separate bills and proposed $40 billion in SNAP cuts, spread across 10 years. Minnesota Representatives Bachmann, John Kline and Erik Paulsen support that proposal.
The conference committee tasked with bridging that multibillion-dollar gap between the House and Senate proposals includes three Minnesota Democrats: Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Peterson, and Rep. Tim Walz.
Republicans say there must be tighter controls on who can and cannot receive SNAP aid. Right now, states have the flexibility to set their own standards for who can receive food aid. The federal standard limits assistance to people living at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line — that’s $15,415 a year for an individual; $26,344 for a family of three — but many states, including Minnesota, set the limit higher. In Minnesota, families living at 165 percent above the federal poverty level — $17,880 for a single adult; $30,216 for a family of three — are eligible for food stamps.
The House worked out a bipartisan agreement in June, only to watch it blow up on the floor when conservatives pushed the amendment that split the farm and food aid provisions.
Democrats, Peterson said, will be reluctant to agree to much more than an 8 percent cut in the SNAP budget, and would likely balk at double-digit cuts, while many House Republicans are pushing to shrink the program by at least $20 billion.
“Hopefully we can figure out the political sweet spot,” he said. “We have been working on this for too darn long.”
Jennifer Brooks • 651-925-5049