Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Indiana General Assembly is in Session!

While much of the news is centered on the United States Congress and the federal budget, Indiana’s General Assembly is currently in session, proposing laws that will go into effect as early as July 1st, 2018.

The Indiana General Assembly (IGA) is a bicameral legislative body, similar to the U.S. Congress. It consists of a House, with 100 members serving 2-year terms, and a Senate, with 50 members serving 4-year terms. A major difference between the IGA and the Congress, is that Indiana runs on a 2-year budget cycle. We are currently in the middle of our budget cycle, and so the IGA is in a short legislative session, running from January 3rd-March 14th, 2018. Although this is a short session, many of the proposed bills will have quite an impact on Hoosiers across the state.

One of the most important bills for those dealing with food insecurity is Senate Bill 11, “Eligibility for supplemental nutrition assistance.” This bill would remove a restriction that prevents certain individuals convicted of drug offenses from receiving SNAP benefits (food stamps). Indiana is one of only four states that does not allow these individuals to receive SNAP benefits.

SB 232, “Access to nutritious food program,” would establish a program under the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, with the goals of “(1) distribution of fresh and nutritious food; and (2) education in food preparation and nutrition in food deserts.”

HB 1285 calls for stricter eligibility and identification requirements for those who receive SNAP benefits or Medicaid from the Family and Social Services Administration of Indiana. The bill proposes identity verification at least four times a year, as well as work requirements for receiving certain funds. The IGA will have a committee conduct a summer study on these possible changes and their cost.

Other bills of interest...
SB 418, “Bias motivated crimes,” would be Indiana’s Hate Crime law. In response to events around the country and the world, it is time Indiana took a stand to protect those from being discriminated against for the race, religion, or sexual orientation. It would also require all crimes of this nature to be reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This bill has support from the leading legislators and will likely be enacted.

SB 93 / HB 1390, both of these bills deal with fair and equal pay. These bills would make it illegal to pay discriminate wages, based on sex, race or national orientation for the same job. If passed, the Indiana Civil Rights Commission would have jurisdiction over complaints.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce provides a wonderful resource about the process of how bill proposals become law.

To follow current proposals and proceedings consider joining Ping the People. Receive daily updates on the bills you care about.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Food and Farms Coalition Call Out

One of the major pieces of legislation that will be on the docket in 2018 is the Farm Bill, a comprehensive, multi-year law that governs the agricultural and food programs that undergird our entire food system. Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and will be instrumental in drafting a Farm Bill that works for all Hoosiers. We appreciate that Joe Donnelly took the time to meet with emergency food providers in Lafayette this November, as part of his listening tour of Indiana concerning the 2018 Farm Bill. During this listening session, we spoke about the fundamental need for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) in Indiana, where food insecurity is still increasing.

On December 5th, Senator Donnelly sent a message recapping his takeaway from this tour. In this email, he stated support for a host of commodity agriculture programs, biofuels and rural community investments, but nowhere did the Senator mention SNAP, or family farms. These are notable omissions; SNAP makes up about 80% of the Farm Bill funding and Indiana has over 40,000 small farms, which are struggling to make ends meet while bringing nutritious food to our communities.

SNAP is in real trouble in this political climate. The tax bill that recently passed will increase the federal deficit drastically, and republican lawmakers have stated that they are now looking to create substantial budget cuts in coming years to social safety net programs, including SNAP, in order to address this shortfall. SNAP cuts would be devastating to local economies, and to the 1 in 8 Hoosiers that depend on SNAP to eat. Nearly 75% of SNAP benefits go to households with children or someone with a disability. These children require healthy food to learn and develop into productive citizens and SNAP is by far the most efficient tool that we have to fight hunger in the US. Food Banks and private charities can only provide 5% of the groceries that hungry Americans need. Government nutrition programs provide the rest.

We need to work with Senator Donnelly to shape a Farm Bill that supports the small farmers and sustainable farming practices that are vital to local food security in Indiana, and to the health of our rural communities. The Center for Disease Control finds that farmers and agricultural workers are 5 times more likely than other kinds of American workers to commit suicide. The rural communities that depend on the health of small farms are suffering. These communities instead need a Farm Bill that prioritizes the success of diversified family farms, the needs of agricultural workers and the health of the land itself. They also need the localized economic boost that SNAP spending creates. According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, every $5 of SNAP benefits spent generates $9 of localized economic activity. Decreasing SNAP spending in Indiana will further depress the economies of Indiana towns.

At the Hub, we know that our entire community is affected by the food industry; as workers, as eaters, as food stamp recipients. That's why we can't ignore the upcoming reauthorization of the Farm Bill. So, we are launching the Food and Farms Coalition (FFC) to organize for a smart Farm Bill. The FFC includes the Hub's Advocacy Working Group and Hoosier Action, working together with small farmers, SNAP recipients and those concerned about the food system. We need to make sure that the Senate hears the voices of Hoosiers too long ignored. If this includes you, join us on Tuesday, January 9th at 6:30pm at Sacred Heart Church, 615 N Fairview St. to build power!