Laser Talk: Call an Agriculture Aide about Protecting SNAP from Cuts in the Farm Bill

May 9, 2013

This laser talk focuses on doing a call with an agriculture aide in a congressional office about protecting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). These calls are very important. Note that this conversation will be with an aide from an office that does not necessarily support our position on SNAP.

Receptionist: Good morning, Congressman Smith’s office.

Volunteer: Yes, may I speak to Mary Jones?

Receptionist: Yes, may I tell him who’s calling?

Volunteer: Yes, my name is Myrdin Thompson. I’m a constituent of Congressman Smith from Louisville.

Receptionist: Hold, please.

Aide: This is Mary Jones.

Volunteer: Yes, Mary. My name is Myrdin Thompson. I’m from Louisville and a RESULTS volunteer. I’m calling to talk about protecting SNAP in the upcoming Farm Bill negotiations. Do you have a few minutes to talk?

Aide: Sure, Myrdin, go ahead.

Volunteer: Thank you. Well, as you know, the House Agriculture Committee is meeting this week to take up a new Farm Bill and I am very concerned that the Committee is considering significant cuts to SNAP. SNAP is such vital program for millions of American families, including many here in Kentucky. In January of this year, 876,000 Kentuckians received SNAP benefits; that’s 20 percent of our population. And 85 percent of them were children and their families, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

Aide: I knew we had a lot of people on SNAP but I wasn’t aware that it was that many. Where did you get those numbers?

Volunteer: I got it from an analysis of USDA data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. I can forward you a fact sheet about it, if that would help.

Aide: That’d be great.

Volunteer: Unfortunately, some of the cuts being proposed would harm many hungry families both here in Kentucky and around the country. For example, the House is considering restricting categorical eligibility for SNAP. Are you familiar with how Cat El works?

Aide: I know a little but I’m not an expert.

Volunteer: Let me briefly explain. Normally, someone applying for SNAP cannot earn more than 130 percent of the federal poverty level and cannot have more than $2,000 in assets. By the way, that $2,000 asset limit for SNAP has not changed in 25 years. So if a household has gross income at 140 percent of poverty, but housing and child care costs that puts them below the poverty line, they can’t get SNAP. Cat El allows them to qualify. It lets states enroll people with gross income up to 200 percent of the poverty line and still get SNAP. For example, here in Kentucky, people can earn up to 160 percent of the federal poverty line with no asset test and still get SNAP. Unfortunately, the House bill eliminates that option, meaning 2 million people would lose SNAP benefits. I think you’ll agree that we can’t eliminate hunger by increasing it.

Aide: But SNAP spending has skyrocketed over the last few years. The costs are getting out of control. We can’t keep spending like this.

Volunteer: You’re right that SNAP spending and enrollment has increased, but that’s because of the economy. SNAP is designed to expand in a bad economy, to keep families from falling too far into poverty. Once the economy improves, SNAP spending and enrollment will return to normal levels. The best way Rep. Smith and his colleagues can reduce SNAP spending is to focus on creating good-paying jobs for low-income workers. Cutting SNAP won’t do that; it will simply force these children and families into poverty, and that’s not good for any of us.

Aide: OK, thanks. So what’ your request?

Volunteer: What I would like is for Congressman Smith to talk to his colleagues on the House Agriculture Committee, including Chairman Frank Lucas, and urge them to vote support efforts to restore any SNAP cuts in the House Farm Bill and if they are not restored, to vote NO on the bill itself. Allowing these reckless cuts to move forward sends a bad message and makes it much harder to restore them later. Because the mark-up is this Wednesday, is he willing to talk to them before then?

Aide: I will talk to him and see what he’s thinking.

Volunteer. Great. Thank you so much. I know protecting SNAP is perhaps not the highest agenda item for Congressman Smith but these decisions will have serious consequences for Kentucky families who are just trying to make a decent life for themselves and their children. We really would appreciate him relaying that message to Ag Committee members this week.

Aide: I’ll talk to him Myrdin. I cannot promise that he’ll do it. He has serious concerns about entitlements programs, some of which we’ve discussed. But I will at least relay your thoughts on this.

Volunteer: Are you able to talk to him before the Ag Committee meets this week?

Aide: I’ll do my best.

Volunteer: Thank you, Mary. I appreciate it. May I call you back in a few days after you’ve spoken to Rep. Smith? I’m curious as to where he stands on this.

Aide: Um… O.K.

Volunteer: How about Wednesday morning at 10 am ET?

Aide: I’m not sure I’ll know by then but you’re welcomed to call.

Volunteer: Great. Thank you for your time, Mary. I enjoyed talking to you and I’ll talk to you Wednesday.

Aide: Thank you, Myrdin.

What Is a Laser Talk?

A laser talk serves as a useful starting point for your advocacy work, whether as a talking points during a town hall meeting or as a primer for face-to-face meetings with candidates and elected officials. Follow up with more information and evidence supporting your points. And of course, adapt a laser talk to reflect your own experiences and why you care about the issue! For more on how to create your own laser talk, see the RESULTS Activist Toolkit: Create and Deliver Your EPIC Laser Talk and see our Nutrition and Health campaign pages for more background on these issues.

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