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Taking food away from children

  • Molly Kelly Courtesy photo—


Wednesday, April 19, 2017 8:45AM

Before retiring from the New Hampshire Senate last year, I sponsored a bipartisan bill that created a commission to address child hunger in our state. The work of the commission is to address the fact that 44,000 children in New Hampshire are food insecure, children who experience physiological pain because they are worried that there will not be food for them to eat and who experience real hunger from a lack of food.

So I cannot overstate my surprise and dismay to learn about SB 7. Why would any New Hampshire legislator write this bill, which specifically targets a provision that, in New Hampshire, only exists to help feed hungry children?

The answer is, SB 7 was not really written by anyone in New Hampshire, with a goal of fixing a problem in New Hampshire. It is “cookie cutter” legislation from a Florida think tank promoting fallacy that families in need are abusing the system, when we know that is not the case. Less than 1 percent of applications for food stamps in New Hampshire are fraudulent – and SB 7 does nothing to address those applications.

Instead, under this misguided legislation, more than 17,000 families with children will lose access to food stamp benefits that help them make ends meet.

According to New Hampshire Legal Assistance, the families most likely to lose benefits are working families with high costs for basic needs like housing, utilities and childcare. These are “working poor” families: they’re working, but can’t make ends meet when faced with the high cost of basic needs.

One of the ways that these families feed their children is through the food stamps program. Another way is through the federally funded school meals program. Children whose families receive food stamps are automatically eligible for free school meals. Children who lose food stamps, if SB 7 becomes law, will no longer have that automatic eligibility and they will have to reapply.

We know that when automatic eligibility ends, we will lose some of these children from the school meals program. Some parents will turn to food pantries and to their cities and towns for help feeding their kids. But many of these kids will just go hungry. They will go to bed without dinner or go to school without breakfast. How can we expect children to learn when they don’t have enough to eat?

Knowing the adverse and long-term impacts SB 7 would have on the health of our children should be reason enough to oppose this bill. However there is one very important argument for those who may not be convinced yet: This bill will not save the state any money, and would in fact increase our expenses in New Hampshire.

The federal government pays 100 percent for food stamps. Administrative costs are split 50/50 between the state and the federal government, and SB 7’s changes to the eligibility system would increase those costs. And as families who lose this federally-funded food assistance have to choose between things like food and heat, they will turn to local welfare and food pantries. SB 7 will also put more pressure on cities, towns and non-profits like The Community Kitchen to try to meet the increased need for food.

I ask again, how can any legislator support a bill that literally takes food away from children? Really, how does one rationalize that action! Are we a state that asks our children to go hungry or to spend their energy worrying about whether they will have food to eat? What has happened to us! We must support and implement initiatives to prevent child hunger, not support and vote into law legislation that does just the opposite.

Molly Kelly is a former state senator. She lives in Harrisville.