STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – During a recent debate at the Arizona House of Representatives, members of the Native American Caucus strongly opposed a bill that could cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, also known as food stamps, for children across the state and on many Native American nations.
Rep. Albert Hale, D-St. Michaels (District 7), noted that he believes the intent of the bill, HB 2596, is to help people move away from dependence and find “a way to climb the economic ladder,” but that the bill would have a “devastating effect on Native American people.”
The bill could affect 79,000 people, including more than 18,000 children, in some communities with the highest unemployment rates. Hale said he is concerned the bill could disproportionately affect Native American nations because unemployment there is often significantly higher than in the rest of the state.
“Climbing the economic ladder implies there is a ladder to climb. On Arizona’s Indian nations, there is no ladder to climb. There is very little to no economic development. Instead of taking resources away from some of the people who need it the most, we should be focused on an economic development agenda that will reduce unemployment,” Hale said. “One of the first steps we should take is to ensure that Indian nations receive their fair share of the state’s transaction privilege tax. This will encourage economic development without putting people in jeopardy.”
Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson (District 3), agreed with Hale. She said that her mother went to night school and attended a training program during the day while she was raising 11 children. She did receive some resources from the state.
“These are difficult things. Parents struggle with situations like this on a daily basis. There are unintended consequences. My mother had to leave our home at 6 a.m. for the job training program, and she was in school at night. That meant the kids in our family were too often left to fend for themselves,” Gonzales said. “This creates an environment where the needs of children are not always being met. I worry about neglect, especially when our Department of Child Safety is facing so many challenges now. Many are working hard and trying to provide for their families. What will happen if we take resources away from families, without first stabilizing the economy, especially in rural areas still recovering from the recession? This concerns me.”
Rep. Jennifer Benally, D-Tuba City (District 7), echoed their concerns.
“The supporters of this bill say that it is supposed to empower people and help them move toward more independence, but in reality it will hurt many people who are trying to create a better life. This isn’t just about Native American families. Families all over the state use this program,” Benally said. “The reason people are asking for SNAP benefits is so they can feed their children. In our culture, our children are sacred. It is our responsibility to take care of our children. We are not going to accomplish that with HB 2596.”
The House approved this bill today. It now goes to the Senate for consideration. To see the full text of the bill, go to: http://www.azleg.gov/DocumentsForBill.asp?Bill_Number=2596&Session_Id=115&image.x=0&image.y=0.