Fetterman introduces bill to allow striking workers to collect SNAP benefits
U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., is introducing legislation today that would allow workers on strike to collect SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps.
The Food Secure Strikers Act comes amid a summer wave of union organizing activity — from locomotive plant workers in Erie to Hollywood writers and actors. A strike by newsroom workers at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Fetterman’s hometown newspaper, has been going on for nearly a year.
“Every union worker who is walking the picket line this summer needs to know that we have their back here in Washington,” Fetterman said in a statement. “The union way of life is sacred. It’s what built Pennsylvania and this nation. It is critical for us to protect workers’ right to organize, and that includes making sure they and their families have the resources to support themselves while on strike.”
Fetterman is chair of the Senate nutrition subcommittee, and said workers should not have “to choose between fighting for fair working conditions and putting food on the table for their families.”
Under current federal law, workers on strike and their households can only collect SNAP benefits if they qualified for the program before going on strike. The law took effect in 1981, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld itin 1988. It has remained largely unchanged since.
“It’s good to see lawmakers attempting to correct the wrongs of the past by reinstating a benefit for striking workers that never should have been taken away in the first place,” Teamsters General President Sean M. O’Brien said in a statement. Teamsters at United Parcel Service narrowly avoided a strike that would have seen 340,000 UPS workers across the country walk off the job Aug. 1. The two sides reached an agreement on Tuesday.
The new bill would repeal the SNAP eligibility restriction on striking workers, and protect public sector workers who are fired for striking from being categorized as having “voluntarily quit,” which would render them ineligible. The legislation would also clarify that any household that qualifies for SNAP benefits can receive them, regardless of whether someone who lives in the household is on strike from their job.
“When workers make the difficult decision to strike, they are often doing so for fairer wages and benefits because they cannot afford to live and raise their families. Often times, employers believe they can wait out workers who struggle financially to lure them into a worse agreement,” Sen. Bob Casey, D-PA, who cosponsored the bill in the Senate, said in a statement.
Unions often have strike funds available for members, but being out on strike for an extended period of time can exhaust those funds. And most states don’t allow striking workers to collect unemployment benefits, except under certain conditions.
Zack Tanner is president of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, which represents striking Post-Gazette newsroom workers. He said he qualified for unemployment benefits, but he and many of his members have faced lengthy delays in receiving their funds.
“I just got my full 26-week payout last week,” Tanner told the Capital-Star on Wednesday, “and that’s in the tenth month of the strike, and it’s only for six months.” He added that some members had to take second jobs while they were waiting which affected their eligibility, and have yet to receive any unemployment benefits.
As for SNAP benefits, Tanner said any assistance that makes things easier for workers on strike would be welcomed.
“When you start talking about walking off the job, whether it’s a weekend or a two-week strike, or an open-ended one like we’re in, the biggest concern among members is ‘how am I going to pay my bills? How am I going to buy groceries,” he said. “So anything that the government could do to ease those concerns, it’s going to make it a lot easier for workers to be able to stand up and do these things. And not let bad bosses permeate through our society.”
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Originally published at www.penncapital-star.com,by Kim Lyons