From his seat on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, freshman U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, D-Fla., is focused on his “Let’s Feed America” efforts even as a major primary challenger gets ready to take him on in 2018.
Lawson has increasingly turned his attention to issues in recent weeks. Last week, Lawson paired up with U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., who also sits on the Agriculture Committee, to call on Gov. Rick Scott to extend Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for Floridians impacted by Hurricane Irma.
“Without the governor’s consent before the beginning of November, SNAP recipients in Florida between the ages of 18 and 50 who are not disabled and do not have dependents will be limited to SNAP benefits for 3 months in any 3-year period when not employed or in a work or training program,” Lawson’s office noted last week as he and Soto wrote Scott on the issue.
“In response to the devastation of Hurricane Irma, your administration ceased enforcement of this time limit for the months of September and October in the 48 FEMA declared disaster counties throughout the State,” Lawson noted. “This move allowed the most vulnerable of Floridians to rebuild their lives without the worry of losing their SNAP benefit, and this policy must be continued.
“How can we expect SNAP recipients—who in the state of Florida are often employed in low-wage jobs related to tourism—to be able to meet time limit and work requirements in areas where devastation has flipped economies upside down?” Lawson asked.
At the end of last month, Lawson brought out the “College Student Hunger Act of 2017” which would extend SNAP benefits to more college students.
“Across the country, students attend colleges and universities with the hopes of climbing the economic ladder, providing for their families, and working to meet new challenges with ingenuity and expertise,” Lawson said when he introduced the proposal. “Unfortunately, the cost of college has increased significantly in the last decade and for many Americans this avenue to a brighter future has become unaffordable. We can’t have students forced to make hard choices between paying for food over books, or for transportation over necessities. This bill aims to help students get the assistance they need in order to be successful.”
Most full time and half time college students are not eligible for SNAP benefits. Lawson’s proposal would ensure some students receiving full Pell Grants, students in foster care, homeless students and students who served in the military will be covered by SNAP.
This is the latest step in Lawson’s “Let’s Feed America Campaign” which he launched at the end of September on the 40th anniversary of the 1977 Food Stamp Act which created SNAP.
“Hunger and food insecurity is a huge problem in our area. One in every four citizens in Florida’s 5th Congressional District has been on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits at some point over the past 12 months,” Lawson said when he kicked the campaign off. “This is nearly twice the national average and the second highest rate among Florida’s 27 congressional districts.”
“Six of the nine counties with the highest rates of food insecurity in Florida ---Gadsden, Leon, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and Duval-- are my District,” Lawson added. “As a member of the House Agriculture Committee Subcommittee on Nutrition, I care deeply about making sure that all Americans have access to food.”
“The Let’s Feed America Campaign seeks to erase hunger through several initiatives to help people in need,” Lawson’s office noted. “The initiatives will focus on seniors, children, college students, and encourage states to continue their partnerships with the federal government in administering anti-hunger programs.”
Also at the end of September, Lawson joined U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, to introduce the “SNAP Standard Medical Expense Deduction Act of 2017.” The proposal provides seniors a deduction if they apply for SNAP benefits, giving them anywhere between an additional $7-$69 a month. Under the proposal, various federal agencies working with seniors and taking on poverty would be required to report on Congress regarding their best practices.
Currently more than 45 million Americans receive SNAP benefits each month and 30 percent of them live with seniors or disabled family members. Only 42 percent of eligible seniors receive SNAP benefits as opposed to 83 percent of the rest of the eligible population.
Lawson explained why he had brought out his proposal.
“This bill will provide our elders and grandparents an added benefit that will allow them to keep up with rising health-care costs without having to worry about buying food,” Lawson said. “Millions of our seniors face strained budgets and, at times, disability. This legislation eases the burden on seniors and ensures that they are not faced with the difficult decision of choosing between buying food and medicine.”
“I care deeply about making sure that all Americans, particularly our seniors, and our most vulnerable, have access to food,” Lawson added.
In the meantime, Lawson appears to have drawn a major primary opponent as former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown is gearing up to challenge him next year. Lawson’s district stretches across North Florida ranging from his home base in Tallahassee over to parts of Jacksonville. Last year, Lawson beat scandal plagued U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., in the primary.