PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla.— Lawmakers in our nation's House of Representatives could vote on a bill this week that will force almost two million Americans off of food stamps, but one local group is making a big push to stop the cuts.
Shannon Love remembers her childhood days vividly. Her grandmother used to bring over a box of snacks. She later learned her mom, working part time as a server, struggled to make ends meet.
“It wasn't until I was a teenager that I learned my mom relied on food stamps. For me, SNAP benefits helped get my family through a crucial period of time,” Love explained. “That made a big impact on me to hear that.”
Now, Love is fighting to make sure other families have the same opportunities. She presented more than 50 signatures Monday, alongside local clergy members, to Representative Gus Bilirakis' Tarpon Springs office urging him to vote no on changes to the food stamp program.
A portion of the farm bill before federal leaders this week would require all food stamp recipients under age 59 to work at least 20 hours a week, including parents with kids over age 6.
Ivan Wallens and Lisa Seguin-Gomez say it’s a good idea to encourage people to become independent.
“I think it’s good to say 'let’s give them a little help but after awhile, it’s on that person to provide for themselves and their family,'” Seguin-Gomez explained.
“It shows initiative that you really want to work and that you need a little help, and you get it with food stamps but you’re willing to work a little bit for it," Wallens added.
Yet others say it comes at a bad time. In the summer months, one in four Tampa Bay children go hungry.
Russell Meyer, of the Florida Council of Churches says the bill "squeezes our poorest residents." He added. “You know whose door they knock on when they lose food stamp benefits? They knock on my door.”
That puts strain on local churches and food banks, he says.
Love is on a mission to get leaders in Washington to vote no this week, so families never have to worry how they’ll put food on the table. “We’re not looking for a handout, we’re looking for a hand-up," she said.
ABC Action News received this statement from Congressman Gus Bilirakis, who supports the bill. “As in years past, I do support reforms to the food program which will ensure that able-bodied participants are either working or participating in a job training program. I firmly believe that social safety net programs should be designed in a way that offer participants a hand up and ensure a path to self-sufficiency. Obviously, seniors, children and the disabled would be exempt from these reforms,” said Congressman Bilirakis.