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Sen. Rob Portman must stand up for the hungry - now: editorial

February 15, 2018 GMT

Sen. Rob Portman must stand up for the hungry - now: editorial

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Those concerned about hunger in America ought to be seeing red over the Trump administration’s proposed “America’s Harvest Box” to give those in need a preselected box of food and to limit food stamp eligibility in the name of reforming the program.

Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said it would be a “Blue Apron-type program.” But the Trump administration’s vaguely outlined proposal can’t come close to the expensive private fresh-food delivery systems on the market and would instead strip the needy of the ability to choose their own food, also essential for family members on special diets.

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What’s more, the burden to create potentially expensive systems to deliver these boxes and to feed those who would no longer qualify for food stamps would fall most heavily on states such as Ohio with tight budgets and growing hunger needs, including among the elderly, and on already pressed food banks, which depend on their communities for money and volunteers.

The annual 2018 Annual Harvest for Hunger that supports the Greater Cleveland Food Bank’s efforts to lessen hunger in Cuyahoga, Lake, Geauga, Ashtabula, Ashland and Richland counties launched today. Money, canned good donations and volunteers are all greatly appreciated.

More on the Annual Harvest for Hunger

To allow the federal government to put a heavier burden on food banks and localities to address hunger in America isn’t right or fair.

We already know where Ohio’s senior senator, Democrat Sherrod Brown, a strong champion of food stamps, stands.

Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio must use his influence to oppose these misguided cuts to hunger programs, publicly and immediately.

But will he?

Portman did not respond directly to questions from our editorial board but his spokesman, Kevin Smith, said that while Portman doesn’t support the latest food stamp proposal, he planned to wait to speak out until the issue was before Congress in the meatier context of reauthorizing, in the farm bill, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, as food stamps now are called. Smith noted that Portman had supported food stamp reauthorization in 2014. Hearings to craft the next farm bill have begun, according to Smith.

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But why wait? Why is Portman not speaking out now and taking a leadership role in guiding this debate?

If Portman remains silent on this matter, it will add to mounting evidence that, on the tough issues, Ohio’s junior senator would rather fade into the background and let others take the heat for denouncing and voting against ill-conceived White House proposals even when they would hurt his own constituents.

Portman’s office is right about one thing, though: Any changes to the food stamp program should be considered as part of the farm bill process when they can be carefully reviewed by Congress.

Under the Trump budget proposal, those receiving $90 or more a month in SNAP benefits would get a portion of their cash food assistance as a box with preselected milk, juice, grains, canned meat and other foods. President Donald Trump’s bean counters say the program could save more than $213 million over ten years because the government would buy the food wholesale -- but that doesn’t count the costs of setting up and staffing such a delivery system.

The proposal also calls for limiting food assistance for some recipients and restricting waivers that allow states with high unemployment to exempt people from a 20-hour weekly work requirement.

Portman must be visible now in this debate. He must stand up for the interests of Ohio and impacted Ohioans in opposing measures like these that are likely to increase hunger and hurt those most in need.

About our editorials: Editorials express the view of the editorial board of cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer -- the senior leadership and editorial-writing staff. As is traditional, editorials are unsigned and intended to be seen as the voice of the news organization.

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