On November 1st, anti-hunger advocates and organizations across the country decried long anticipated cuts to the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) formerly the food stamp program. The cuts, scheduled to take place since 2010, will affect 47 million Americans with an average family of four losing the equivalent of $36 a month. This lowers the average family’s amount spent on a meal to only $1.40. With the recent partisan gridlock in Washington, lack of access to SNAP funds due to the recent two week government shutdown, and the House’s intent to propose close to $40 billion in SNAP cuts in the next farm bill, emergency food networks are screaming foul.
Households with children, veterans, the elderly, and people with disabilities make up eighty-three percent of SNAP recipients. Feeding America, the nation’s largest anti-hunger charity and advocacy network, estimates that the expected cuts alone will lead to a reduction of 21 meals per month in a family’s budget, an increased lack of nutritious healthy foods in children’s diets, and a significant amount of insecure households needing access to emergency food services at a higher rate. Food Banks and their affiliated member agencies have been crushed over the past few years due to the economic recession. Even with an increase in participation in the food stamp program and a boost in funding, food banks and food pantries have been stretched to capacity and many say increased funding is needed to meet current demand. With the increasing cost of childcare, education, and other basic household necessities, families are trying to do more with less.
The SNAP program cuts not only have food security and nutrition impacts across the country, but also have put a strain on emergency food infrastructure allowing for less flexibility and responsiveness during emergency situations. For example, after Hurricanes Sandy and Irene, food banks filled the gap storing and distributing ready to eat meals and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) water during the aftermaths. Putting additional strains on American families and potentially damaging our ability to respond to future weather and economic shocks is not the direction that we should be moving in. Further reductions in SNAP funding could be catastrophic not only to beneficiaries, but also to critical infrastructure, and the overall economy.
Many people do not realize the economic impact that SNAP and other government support programs have on the US economy. According to research by Moody’s Economy.com, for every dollar the government puts in to the SNAP program, a $1.73 is generated, which the report suggests is the fastest way to infuse money into the economy. With 1 in 7 adults receiving food stamp benefits, half of all adults receiving them at some point in their lifetime (ages 20 to 65), and half of children receiving them during their childhood, SNAP affects the majority of American lives and gives them access to healthy and nutritious foods, that is often out of reach due to poverty and food deserts (areas without access to fresh foods and supermarkets one to ten miles from residents homes and poor public transit systems to the supermarkets). Lack of nutrition for children leads to lower grades in school, because students are unable to focus in class, and increased risks of hypertension, obesity, and diabetes.
Currently, Congress is again debating whether to further reduce the safety net for millions of low- and middle-income families with children, veterans, people with disabilities, and the elderly. According to the Congressional Budget Office, this new bill would cut $4 billion from the budget and force 3.8 million people from the food stamp program in 2014. President Obama has promised to veto this bill should it make it to his desk, but that doesn’t change things for the millions of households who are already feeling the pinch from the November 1st cuts and our economy’s stagnant growth.