DECATUR — While lawmakers hash out the details of what will become the next Farm Bill, U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis on Wednesday stressed his continued support for changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, that would toughen work requirements for food stamp recipients.
Davis, a Taylorville Republican, is among those on the bipartisan committee of senators and representatives who are working to craft the final legislation. Davis discussed the proposed changes as part of a wide-ranging interview with the Herald & Review editorial board during a stop in Decatur, where he also toured the Lake Decatur dredging project.
The work requirements are a key sticking point in the agriculture and nutrition bill. The provision requires most able-bodied adults ages 18 to 59 to work or participate in job training for 20 hours a week to receive benefits. Davis said connecting recipients with job training and future employment is the only way to help them get ahead and stop needing the assistance.
Davis said the government already offers job training and education opportunities, but they would be more effective and reach more people if connected to SNAP benefits.
“Why wouldn’t we tie it to SNAP benefits, why wouldn’t we encourage families?” Davis asked. “No one is getting kicked off of SNAP. Nobody is getting kicked off of SNAP, so why wouldn’t we invest in education and training through SNAP?”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 42 million low-income individuals received SNAP benefits last year. About 80 percent of the total spending in the current Farm Bill, which expires at the end of the month, comes from the Nutrition title, which includes SNAP.
The House version of the Farm Bill included changes to SNAP, while the Senate version did not.
In practice, Davis said the change would allow a recipient to be referred to a job training program at a venue such as Richland Community College, then immediately be connected to an employer. Eligible recipients who do not choose to accept training or jobs would lose their benefits, Davis said.
“We’re going to say to you, (a SNAP recipient), we know, here are the jobs that are available in your community,” Davis said. “We know Richland Community College offers these programs to you and to many to get you trained so you can take a job. It’ll take you four to eight weeks to get this done. Would you be willing to get that training, and we’ll pay for it? And then at the end, we are going to pair you up with a job here. Are you OK with that, is that what you want to do? If you say, ‘yes’ then that kicks the education and training investment that we’re making into action.”
Too much focus on Trump
Davis said he wished the media would focus less on whatever President Donald Trump is tweeting.
He made the remarks after being asked about a recent report from George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health that 2,975 people died during last year’s Hurricane Maria that ravaged Puerto Rico. Trump later tweeted that the death count was inaccurate and that it was created by Democrats “in order to make me look as bad as possible."
Davis said he believed the report was accurate, but continued that he would not play “tit-for-tat” with Trump and questioned why Republicans have to answer for everything Trump is, or is not, saying on Twitter.
“I didn’t get asked my first four years about everything that President (Barack) Obama tweeted out, whether I disagreed with it or not,” Davis said. He later added, “I don’t think it’s healthy for the 24-hour news cycle, and the media, to only focus on what is or isn’t being said on social media. I think the focus on what the president says then leads to a focus on what people who disagree with what the president said, and it leads to more polarization. And I’m trying to get away from that.”
He also said he wished there was more focus on tweets from the “other side of the aisle.”
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Londrigan highlights environmental backing during Decatur stop
Davis' challenger in the November election, Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, was also in Decatur on Wednesday. She spoke briefly during the environmental candidate forum hosted at Millikin University by Sustain Our Natural Areas, or SONA.
Fitting the theme of the forum, Londrigan told the several dozen in attendance that she firmly believed humans have a responsibility to slow down the effects of climate change and to protect public land.
“And we can do all of that while we spur on our economy, she said, “and there is nowhere where that is more evident than right here in the 13th District. We have wind farms, we have solar energy, we have nuclear energy. ... This is a great time to be in Central Illinois, and it’s a great time for clean energy.”
Londrigan has previously been endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club.
Sue Scherer open to ideas to fix hot classrooms
As a longtime teacher, state Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, said she has thought a lot this summer about ways the state could help schools address the challenge presented by hot weather.
On warm days, Decatur public schools and other districts are often forced to dismiss students early because of what school officials say are health and safety issues with keeping them in sweltering classrooms that lack air conditioning. Such has been the case this week, with Decatur students dismissed early on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and today.
It's a problem that Scherer told the Herald & Review editorial board she continues to puzzle over.
“I can’t figure out a way for the non-air-conditioned rooms to close and the air-conditioned rooms to stay open,” she said.
As Scherer sees it, schools in Decatur and across the state are faced with an issue of buildings getting older, average temperatures getting warmer and not enough money to go around to make the necessary upgrades.
Decatur Superintendent Paul Fregeau earlier this month announced a wide-ranging facilities plan for closing some buildings and upgrading others to include air conditioning in all buildings, but that won't be complete for five years, pending approval of the Illinois State Board of Education.
Life safety bonds are one financing option that allows districts to repair facilities and buy equipment to help meet state building codes for schools. But even if the districts receive the required state approval for such borrowing, Scherer said other priorities could take precedent.
“You have to make tough decisions,” she said. “So are you not going to have a fire alarm because you had to pay for air conditioning?”