Bilirakis voicing concerns for veterans amid proposed food stamp changes

Washington D.C.

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – A congressman from the Tampa Bay area is one of several lawmakers voicing concerns about proposed changes to the food stamp program and how they could impact veterans.

A House committee questioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture this week on whether it made the right choice before the new rule takes effect April 1.

“Not having enough food to eat is very real for too many Americans and for too many of our veterans,” said Dr. Thomas O’Toole, the senior medical advisor at Providence VA Medical Center.

More than a million low-income veterans depend on the SNAP program to feed their families. Members of Congress – like Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA) – worry many of them could soon lose their food stamps.

“This committee is concerned that decisions are being made regarding these resources without thoroughly considering the impact on veterans,” Levin said.

A new USDA rule will force states to tighten SNAP work requirements which means fewer people, including veterans, will qualify.

“We don’t have specific data sets on veterans,” USDA Administrator Pam Miller said.

Miller says about three percent of SNAP recipients are veterans. But because veteran status isn’t part of the application, there’s no easy way to know who they are.

That’s something that concerns lawmakers.

“So veterans have no significance, additional importance to you given their service to our nation where even a phone call to VA was warranted?” Rep. Levin asked Miller this week.

“We certainly want to make sure we’re serving all low-income Americans, including veterans,” Miller said, admitting the USDA did not contact the VA.

Lawmakers like Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) also made the argument that hunger leads to other health issues, particularly the growing suicide epidemic that veterans are facing.

“Food insecurity can be a contributing factor that can be detrimental to a person’s mental health,” Bilirakis said.

That’s why VA officials say they want to identify more veterans at risk for hunger and connect them with resources like SNAP.

Congress has to approve any changes to the SNAP application. A provision in the 2018 Farm Bill would have added a veteran status but it was ultimately removed.

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