On June 7, 2023

Federal debt ceiling deal will heighten hunger and poverty in Vermont


By Anore Horton and John Sayles

Editor’s note: Horton and Sayles are executives at Hunger Free Vermont.

Hunger is a solvable problem, yet in the federal debt limit deal, one of the negotiated “tradeoffs” is to take food off our neighbors’ tables. People over 50 and under 55 who receive SNAP benefits, known in Vermont as 3SquaresVT, will now have to prove that they either worked or volunteered for 80 hours in the previous month. This means official pay stubs, approved volunteer sheets, or other “proof”, submitted every month simply to receive anywhere from $23 to a few hundred dollars per month to purchase food, or these benefits will be subject to time limits. 

The debt ceiling agreement comes at the expense of people all across America, including tens of thousands of people in Vermont trying to make ends meet. The expansion of cruel and arbitrary requirements and time limits will only deepen hunger and poverty, in Vermont and beyond. Telling people who are struggling to make ends meet that without documented hours of labor, they can only use 3SquaresVT for three months out of every three years will certainly not significantly lower the national debt. 

Who will be required to prove they are eligible? Neighbors who are unable to work yet not disabled enough to qualify on a government form; family members caring for children so parents can work; a friend working off the books for a small business; or someone in a rural area with no transportation or internet access. In Vermont, the newly proposed work requirements will apply to about 2,500 more people than the current work requirements. 30 years of research shows that imposing work requirements and time limits on food benefits simply takes food away from people, making it harder to get and keep a job. Food is a basic need and should never have a time limit.

Adding burdens to people ages 50-54 who receive food assistance as the price for allowing the government to pay its bills is immoral. These changes will do one thing: punish people with lower income and working-class people for systems outside of our control, like underpaid labor markets and lack of affordable housing, childcare, transportation, and sick leave, to name only a few. Neighbors who qualify for 3SquaresVT benefits but, due to this policy change, will be subject to work requirements and time limits, will continue to experience hunger. 

This federal policy choice also shifts the responsibility to ensure that no one in this wealthy country goes hungry to a network of organizations already reeling from the end of 3SquaresVT Emergency Allotments in April. Many of the Vermont Foodbank’s network partner food shelves and pantries saw record guest visits in May. This change puts impossible pressures on food banks and the small, local community-based food programs that are already stretched thin by increased need. How can we ask the people who show up every day for neighbors across our state to do more when we have a federal system that already works – if politicians would only let it? 

Food banks and the charitable food system are not the solution to hunger. Tens of millions of people in the U.S. and well over 100,000 people in Vermont can’t afford enough nourishing food. People are working and contributing to our communities, yet they still can’t go to the store and afford to buy the food they need. Elected representatives need to stop cutting existing, successful programs and start listening to solutions to hunger being offered by communities across Vermont and around the country. Hunger is solvable. Hundreds of community organizations are ready to partner. Policymakers, let’s get down to the real work.

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