Cut in benefits would have hurt veterans

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Today, there are 21.8 million veterans living in the United States, and more than 1.5 million of these brave men and women live in Florida. When our troops return home, they are often faced with considerable challenges and obstacles. Too many veterans struggle to find work, secure adequate health care, and maintain stable housing for themselves and their families.

As one of only three states with over 1 million veterans, Florida has a proud history of standing by the men and women who fight for all of us. Unfortunately, while the country is slowly recovering from the most recent economic downturn, 6.1 percent of Florida's veterans are unemployed, and the unemployment rate among veterans who served after 9/11 is even higher. The result: More than 100,000 veterans living in Florida rely on government assistance programs to feed themselves and their families.

It is with these veterans in mind that we write to express our outrage with U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland's voting record on food issues generally and nutrition assistance specifically. Last year, he supported a bill that would have cut 3.8 million people from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps. What is arguably worse is the amendment he authored that would have ended benefits for families that could not find work, including 170,000 unemployed veterans. He said later, "I believe that if you are going to eat, you should bring something to the table."

Bring something to the table? Veterans who must rely on the SNAP program already brought something to the table: their service to the country in defense of the rights and freedom we all enjoy.

Sadly, veterans would not be the only Americans impacted by that proposal. Vulnerable Americans who are playing by the rules but happen to be hurt by an economy still in recovery would have gone hungry if that amendment was enacted into law. That's not only bad policy, it's just plain wrong.

Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed. In the end, Congress did not go along. The maneuver did, however, stymie the efforts of Republicans and Democrats on both sides of Capitol Hill who were working to find a reasonable compromise on the Farm Bill.

As leaders of organizations that fight to lift veteran voices (VoteVets.org) and advocate for common-sense food policy (Food Policy Action), we hope that that Southerland will abandon his previous position. As for the veterans and many other Floridians who would have been directly harmed by that amendment, we hope that they remember Southerland's words and deeds on Election Day.

Jon Soltz is chairman of VoteVets.org. Tom Colicchio is a Food Policy Action board member, a food advocate and a chef.

TELEPHONE TOWN HALL

Tom Colicchio and Food Policy Action is hosting a Telephone Town Hall at 6 p.m. Thursday to discuss food issues in this year's election. To join in, call (832)-225-5885 and use Access Code: 26924#

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