Alaska congresswoman’s first bill passes House

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U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola’s first bill, which would establish an Office of Food Security in the Department of Veterans Affairs, has passed the House.

Peltola’s bill advanced Thursday afternoon on a 376-49 vote, with significant GOP support. Many far-right Republicans from the Freedom Caucus voted against it.

The vote came just a day after Peltola spoke on the House floor to advocate her proposal.

“I rise today to speak on a topic of vital importance to my state, where veterans comprise about 10% of the population, and I know many veterans who face food insecurity,” she said Wednesday.

The office would coordinate with the Department of Defense and the Department of Agriculture, which is in charge of the food-stamp Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

According to researchers from the Rand Corporation, veterans who are disabled, unemployed and who served in the years since 9/11 are at higher risk of food insecurity than other veterans. The scope of the problem is not clear, but Rand researcher Tamara Dubowitz said one argument in favor of getting more needy veterans on SNAP benefits is that improved nutrition would save on health-care costs.

“I think others would say, ‘Look, these are people who have given to our country and we owe it to them to make sure that they have the basics,'” Dubowitz said. “And, you know, SNAP is something that allows them to not be living in on shaky ground.”

Peltola cited a Center for Strategic and International Studies study that said food insecurity among veterans and service members is a national security concern, in part because it adds stress to military families and may harm recruitment.

“I know this bill will not solve the problem entirely, but I believe it can help Alaska and throughout the country,” Peltola said. 

Josh Wilson, a spokesman for Peltola’s congressional office, said her staff – hired just days ago – drafted the bill with the staff from the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

House Republicans did not argue against the bill. A vote is expected on Thursday, the last day before the House goes on recess until after the November election.

Peltola’s office also announced that she now has a second committee assignment: Education and Labor. She’s also on the House Natural Resources Committee.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org.