Monday, February 20, 2017

Legislative Committee Meeting Road Trip

Today is President's Day. 

This kids are off school, wrestling around the bedroom as I am typing, because sleeping in on a day when there is no school just is not an option. 

We are going on a road trip. 
We are going to return to a few of our favorite Helena places.  
I might be bribing the kids a little bit, because I have an ulterior motive. 

We are making a quick jaunt over the pass to make an appearance at a legislative committee meeting to make a public comment on House Bill 361.  This bill revises the criteria for who is eligible for SNAP benefits cutting benefits for many low income Montanans while also costing the state upwards of $500,000.  Go figure.  I can only assume that the sponsoring legislator likes poor people even less than he likes being being fiscally responsible. Driving two hours to go speak for a few minutes about proposed legislation is a a new adventure for the three of us and I have to admit that I am pretty nervous.  I spent the last three hours writing and rewriting my comment.  Here is what I have come up with: 

Hi, my name is Heidi West. 
These are my children, Ivory and Sylvan.

House Bill 361 is not only fiscally irresponsible, but also displays an ignorance of the demographics, diversity and complexity of who and why people are poor in Montana. This bill goes further than just restricting access. It also undermines the judgment of professionals who work with SNAP recipients and make a system work as well as it can, for as many people as possible.

We are one of the many families that depended on SNAP. From 2009 until 2015 I worried about many things: I worried about holding onto 12 months worth of income documentation for my LIEAP application, I worried about getting sick with no access to health care, I worried about not providing enough opportunity for my children; I worried about finding houses to rent that we could afford but were also a safe; I worried about snow boots and warm coats and occasionally toilet paper but I NEVER ONCE WORRIED ABOUT HOW I WAS GOING TO FEED MY FAMILY.

SNAP benefits provide a small but essential buffer between having a home and being homeless, between being able to absorb an unforeseen expense and disaster, they are what allow thousands of Montanans to make it through each day and hope that though hard work, creativity, patience and planning they will create the right combination of opportunity and success to provide for themselves.

Low income individuals, and especially low income women and children, are members of a largely voiceless and under-represented demographic. In legislatures around the country, the value of lives is degraded into conversations about drug tests, sugary drinks and more generally the idea that SNAP recipients are undeserving.  The people that are being spoken about in these legislative proposals, are me. There is no accurate stereotype of who a SNAP recipient is:  they are moms and dads, they are kids, disabled folks, and people who for some reason or another are in challenging times; they could be your waiter, your kid's preschool teacher, your friends and your neighbors.

You have the opportunity and responsibility, to give voice to the voiceless and to represent the whole spectrum of Montana citizenry – maintain access to SNAP benefits and let Health and Human Service workers do their jobs.  Thank you.


  1. Heidi, brilliant as always, and so important. Proud of you!

    1. thank you. it was quite the day. much longer than expected but I am so glad that I went.