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Nebraska Bread and Community Leaders Meet with Sen. Johanns as Farm Bill Heats Up

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A group of advocates that included (l to r) John Levy of Heart Ministry Center, Beatty Brasch, of the Center for People in Need, Scott Young of the Food Bank of Lincoln, and Bread for the World Hunger Justice Leader Kaela Volkmer, visited the office of Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), and encouraged him to protect and strengthen SNAP.

By Kristin Ostrom and Kaela Volkmer

Just one week before the scheduled congressional debate on the farm bill and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), a diverse team of leaders met with Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) in Omaha to talk about SNAP. Sen. Johanns is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and former Secretary of Agriculture under President George W. Bush. Bread for the World Hunger Justice Leader Kaela Volkmer organized and facilitated the April 30 meeting with the senator, who was joined by his state director Nancy Johner and agriculture policy assistant Ben Connor. We are grateful for the senator’s time and attention and for Nancy Johner’s assistance in scheduling the meeting.

The team urged Sen. Johanns to protect and strengthen SNAP in the upcoming farm bill debates and to reject amendments that could reduce SNAP's ability to meet the needs of hungry people. Kaela also referred the senator to a letter she delivered several months earlier. The letter, which was signed by more than fifty faith and community leaders in Nebraska, lifted up SNAP as an efficient and effective investment in helping to meet the most basic need for food during difficult times.

The meeting was positive and cordial, and the team felt Sen. Johanns was receptive to their points. They came well-prepared with stories and stats to bolster their ask that Sen. Johanns protect and strengthen SNAP and reject farm bill amendments that would cut SNAP. Johanns confirmed the team was meeting with him at the exact right time for this issue!

 

SNAP — Essential to Hungry People in Nebraska

John Levy, who directs the Heart Ministry Center in Omaha, participated in the meeting. The Heart Ministry Center offers a “choice food pantry” (where clients select their own foods) and programs to address people's underlying problems.  John insisted that we must not cut back on food assistance and said that if people’s food needs aren’t being met, it is almost impossible to help them in other ways, as his center does through a remarkably effective self-sufficiency program.

Scott Young, director of the Food Bank of Lincoln, gave the senator a stack of paper plates signed by people who receive SNAP. He noted that the program works effectively to help real people—the working poor, seniors, and children. He also affirmed John Levy’s observation that he has never seen the “mythical person” who wants to be on SNAP.

"People are still hungry even after SNAP and charitable food help," added Beatty Brasch, director of the Center for People in Need in Lincoln. The Center for People in Need distributes over 2 million pounds of food each year and conducts extensive surveys on the needs of low-income households in Lincoln, among many other services. According to the center’s most recent findings, many low-income people in Lincoln do not have enough fresh fruits and vegetables, and most of them are working.

Kristin Ostrom, a Bread leader in Lincoln, showed the senator a chart tracking the increase in SNAP and the increase in poverty over the last few years. The chart showed nearly identical growth in poverty and SNAP usage, affirming the program is working as intended.

Addressing the Debt and Protecting Poor and Hungry People

The team allowed time for Sen. Johanns to share his perspective, and they offered additional compelling points in response. Johanns noted his strong concern about the growth of SNAP in recent years and our nation’s debt and the need to put us on a more sustainable fiscal trajectory. Other leaders will continue to address these concerns in phone calls to Johanns’ office next week, when the Senate Agriculture Committee takes up the farm bill. These calls will reinforce the fact that growth in SNAP is due to the flexible, effective, and efficient nature of the program—which has responded as it should to the highest level of poverty that our country has seen in fifty years. Leaders will convey that while we agree our nation must achieve a sustainable and responsible fiscal path, this should not be done by making it even more difficult for people in need to eat—and to do so would cost us more in the long run.

Nebraskans have not stood idly by as political leaders have debated vital nutrition assistance to vulnerable Americans. We thank all those who have worked to urge Sen. Johanns to protect and strengthen SNAP. May he and other political leaders respond to our drumbeat of justice for people in need.

Kristin Ostrom and Kaela Volkmer are Bread for the World Activists in Nebraska.

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