Don’t Assume the Poor and Hungry Aren’t Working

Sister Kathy Flynn
August 19, 2018

I’m a native Iowan and a Catholic Dominican Sister. I minister at Opening Doors, a program in Dubuque that welcomes women who experience homelessness and who seek our help as they rebuild their lives.

We work with them to find employment, pursue educational goals, and develop other life skills.

The women I work with can’t become self-sufficient if access to food is taken away from them and their children. That is why I am urging U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst to reject the House version of the Farm Bill, which cuts access to nutritional food.

In September 2018, the Farm Bill, which funds Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), expires and will need to be reauthorized. Both the House and Senate have created new versions of the Farm Bill, and now they have to reconcile them.

While the partisan House bill hurts families by cutting SNAP, the bipartisan Senate bill keeps SNAP safe and ensures that the women I work with will be able to eat and feed their children.

Sen. Ernst was appointed as one of a small number of Senate conferees on the bill, and she has the power and responsibility to make sure the Senate provisions in the nutrition title are upheld.

I see the “on-the-ground” ramifications of our food policies every day. I see women who desperately want to provide nourishing, healthy meals to their children but often can’t, due to limited resources or other barriers.

I see women without transportation or child care walking a mile to a grocery store and back, or taking an hour-long bus trip with children in tow. Being poor and without resources is simply exhausting!

It is a myth that people in poverty do not work. The vast majority of women who move through transitional housing live at or below the federal poverty threshold and are working — sometimes at two jobs while raising children — consistently trying to overcome barriers that are invisible to many of us.

Low unemployment rates mask the reality that most of the jobs available are low-wage and unpredictable. More than two in five Iowa households receiving SNAP include children. Options for child care and transportation are limited at best. Healing from trauma takes a lot of energy.

Sen. Ernst said the Senate Farm Bill lacked harsh work requirements and “missed an opportunity to help able-bodied SNAP recipients rise up out of poverty.”

Senator, you are wrong.

Most SNAP recipients who can work, already do work. In Iowa, 84 percent of SNAP families have at least one working member. If the 2018 Farm Bill makes it harder for people to eat, it certainly isn’t providing opportunities.

Expanding work requirements and adding unnecessary burdens to access nutrition assistance means more discouraging red tape for millions of Americans already struggling to get by. Insecurity and hardship takes a toll.

These are some of the most resilient people I have been blessed to know, but they deserve help to not go hungry.

The Dominicans are a mendicant order, meaning that for over 800 years we’ve begged — particularly when a just cause is at stake. And so I’m begging Sen. Ernst for a Farm Bill that does not make hunger and poverty worse in this country. Please look to the Senate’s version of the Farm Bill as the right path forward.

The author is a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa, Wis., who is an education/employment case manager at Opening Doors in Dubuque, which ministers to women experiencing homelessness.


Sister Kathy Flynn’s Op-Ed was originally published in the Telegraph Herald. View the original here.

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