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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Flathead Farmers Worry About SNAP Changes In Farm Bill

Farmers Market.
Farmers Market.

Wednesday a joint U.S. House and Senate committee began a potentially week-long process of reconciling two versions of the Farm Bill. The current bill expires at the end of this month.

Small farm owners in the Flathead Valley worry one version could severely impact SNAP benefits in Montana.

Gretchen Boyer mans the Farm Hands Nourish the Flathead table at the entrance to the Whitefish Farmers Market, where farmers are trading in colorful plastic discs their customers buy produce with, for cash.

About 12 percent of Montanans receive SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, benefits, according to the state health department. They can use SNAP — often matched dollar for dollar with local or federal grant money — to buy certain kinds of food anywhere from grocery stores and gas stations to farmers markets.

Funding for SNAP comes out of the Farm Bill, the country’s biggest agriculture bill, which expires at the end of September. The version passed by the Senate keeps SNAP pretty much as it is. The House-passed bill would require adults younger than 60 who aren’t disabled to work 20 hours a week to get SNAP benefits.

Boyer says the controversial work-requirements don’t make sense.

"The reality is that most of the people on SNAP work. It's much more about wage and affordable living than the fact that they aren’t working hard enough or they need to work harder. That’s just not the reality."

Some farmers in the Flathead also say they’d be impacted if SNAP funding changed.

Whitney Pratt is the farm manager at Purple Frog Gardens.

"Money you give to a local farmer stays in our community," Pratt says. "We pay other business owners. We keep it local."

Pratt says small fruit and vegetable growers aren’t eligible for the government subsidies available to large scale commodity farmers under the Farm Bill.

"For us, SNAP is a way for us to get a portion of those dollars that are coming into the state, that are coming into families, and it's a really important part of our income."

SNAP and related programs brought about $6,000 into the Whitefish farmers market last summer and about $50,000 to markets in Missoula.

Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester both voted for the Senate version of the Farm Bill. Daines says he would have liked to see a work requirement for SNAP recipients similar to the House’s version included. Senator Tester says he thinks SNAP works fine now and doesn’t need to change. Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte voted for the House version.

Nicky is MTPR's Flathead-area reporter.
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