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A proposal before Congress to further tighten requirements for individuals to receive federal food assistance is verging on being downright vindictive.

The bill, passed out of a House committee last month, would shorten the time frame unemployed, able-bodied individuals can receive food assistance from three months to one month. It would also expand the upper age range of those subject to the requirement from 49 to 59 and extend the requirement to individuals whose children are over the age of 7.

Montana Food Network Chief Policy Officer Lorianne Burhop says the tougher requirements are not needed and will be an onerous burden that will cut off food from individuals who are already facing many difficulties — like keeping a roof over their head or maintaining some means of transportation — that are making the business of finding work very difficult.

Proponents say the proposal represents common-sense reform that will give people a hand up instead of a hand out. "We're talking about able-bodied adults who have chosen not to work," Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte said recently.

The ideology behind that sentiment is understood. But it is typically espoused by those who have never found themselves needing help getting food. The assumption is that food assistance recipients are shiftless freeloaders who need to be booted out of the system to get them to work.

There are certainly some who abuse the system and take the food assistance as part of a strategy for avoiding work. But Burhop, who has daily contact with those needing food assistance, says most are in dire straits and depriving them of food assistance will only make matters worse.

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Also to be considered is that the able-bodied recipients aren't the only ones impacted. They may have children or other family members who will have less access to food when benefits are denied.

Adopting these stricter standards are unlikely to produce substantial savings to the national treasury. And the problems they could cause might end up costing more in the long run.

Gianforte and his colleagues in Congress are urged to reject these stricter requirements and leave the food assistance eligibility requirements alone.

— Bozeman (Mont.) Daily Chronicle

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