By Harry Alford
(President and CEO, National Black Chamber of Commerce)
and Rep. Mike Conaway
(TX-11, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee)
From 2012 to 2015 African American-owned businesses across the U.S. grew from 1.9 million to 2.6 million. As the economy continues growing, these numbers are only expected to increase, but our nation’s Black businesses face a host of challenges, including access to a skilled workforce. Currently, there are more than 6.1 million open jobs in the U.S. This is a significant roadblock for Black employers across the country, who want to continue expanding and growing their operations.
That’s why it’s time for Washington to take a serious look at the skills gap and support policies that create opportunities for our work-capable adults.
The House Agriculture Committee is proposing legislation to help provide these opportunities for the unemployed and underemployed using one of our nation’s anti-poverty programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The bill aims to help work-capable adults receiving SNAP secure employment to improve their lives. Americans in poverty should be supported by government assistance that aims to graduate users into the mainstream economy. And the new bill implements and mandates constructive and empowering work requirements that are balanced with a strong investment in proven tactics to assist recipients in climbing the economic ladder and improving their station in life.
Now is the time for a focus on employment and training in the SNAP program. Let’s energize and prepare eligible and work-capable SNAP recipients, aged 18-59 years-old, for the workforce by way of a significant investment in SNAP Employment and Training (E&T), including a suite of ancillary services like assessment and case management. It is important to afford individuals additional opportunities like apprenticeships and subsidized employment opportunities that are proven to help individuals enter or re-enter the workforce. Congress must take advantage of the current economy, and support individuals who want their own status to improve.
Businesses and SNAP recipients alike stand to benefit from investments in training and education. Our economic potential is only as great as our workforce, and as we look to stimulate growth for Black-owned businesses we need to see these policies for what they are: opportunities for those in need, accountability for those on SNAP and an untapped workforce that can fill businesses unmet needs.
While critics of this legislation claim it is aimed at kicking people off SNAP to save money, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Under this work proposal, only a work-capable individual who chooses not to participate in a guaranteed E&T slot—who chooses not to take advantage of the free training and education opportunities—will lose eligibility for SNAP.
It’s time for both parties in the House and Senate to come together and rid America of poverty through opportunities for upward mobility and empower families and individuals with occupational training and job placement. All it takes is proper attention.
That’s why the House Agriculture Committee wants to work with groups like the National Black Chamber of Commerce, Black churches and other interested parties to highlight opportunities to bring jobs back to local communities and hire local workers.
It’s as the old adage tells us, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
For more information on the 2018 Farm Bill, visit agriculture.house.gov/farmbill.
Mr. Alford is the Co-Founder, President and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Rep. Mike Conaway (TX-11) is the Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.