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Fresno's jobs drought starts at the dinner table with food stamps

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Jim Costa and Jeff Denham – call Lee Brand. I’m guessing Fresno’s next mayor would like to buy you a cup of coffee.

Especially if the topic of conversation is your latest policy contribution to better America: “Past, Present, & Future of SNAP.”

Brand, too, wants to raise human dignity by helping people find jobs.

Costa and Denham, of course, are Valley-based Congressman. Costa, a Democrat, hails from Fresno. Denham, a Republican, is from Turlock.

They are members of the House Committee on Agriculture that unveiled last week the results of its investigation into the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – generally known as Food Stamps.

“Past, Present, & Future of SNAP” is a long (66 pages) and fascinating dive into one of the biggest and most important pieces of America’s safety net.

Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway states at the beginning of the report: “We can all agree that no one ought to go hungry in America, and SNAP is essential in protecting the most vulnerable citizens during tough times. For many it is a vital lifeline to keeping food on the table.”

A goal of the report is to underscore the importance of gainful employment in lifting people out of poverty and strengthening their independence. The report notes that in 2014 only 2.7 percent of full-time workers lived below the federal poverty level compared with 32.3 percent of adults who did not work.

I sense from years of interviews with Brand that when he takes office in January he will make economic development the No. 1 priority of his administration. None of the policy achievements of Mayor Ashley Swearengin – not the dreams of the 2035 general plan, not the hopes for the Parks Master Plan, not the revitalization of inner-city Fresno and the Blackstone Corridor, to name just a few – stand a chance of succeeding if Fresno remains America’s poster child for unemployment, underemployment and concentrated poverty.

(And please don’t mention Fresno’s falling unemployment rates. I learned from my work on the 2003 “Broke and Broken” report in The Bee to put little faith in those numbers.)

Why would Brand want to discuss food stamps with Costa and Denham? After all, SNAP is a federal-state-county program that seemingly has nothing to do with City Hall.

But as the report co-produced by Costa and Denham makes clear, there’s a connection between a wise food-stamp program and a dynamic community. Americans shouldn’t suffer. Able-bodied Americans should work. You’ve got to have jobs if people are to work.

Sounds like a No. 1 City Hall issue to me.

We’ll take a good look at the work of Costa, Denham and their Agriculture Committee colleagues in “Past, Present, & Future of SNAP.” We’ll take a brief look at food stamps in Fresno County. We’ll let Brand have his say about economic development.

Then we’ll hold on as Fresno City Hall and a new administration transition from a focus on writing thick plans to a crusade to put people to work.

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

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