One million people in Washington use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to feed their families. Two out of every 3 households receiving assistance includes a child. Washington’s children are at great risk of hunger – an experience no child should go through.
Congress has been considering some dangerous changes to federal policy governing SNAP. And as bad as the Senate version of the Farm Bill would be for Washington’s children, the version passed out of the House Agriculture Committee last week is worse.
The starting point for the House bill is the Senate’s harmful limitation on state “heat and eat” options that allow more families to receive larger utility deductions and higher benefits. Here in Washington, this will cut the monthly food budgets of nearly a quarter million families by 37 percent. And the House version makes two additional harmful changes.
First, it eliminates the state’s flexibility to change food stamp qualifications that help the recently unemployed. This change will force jobseekers to get rid of items they’ll need to get back on their feet, like the family car. It will also throw more than 80,000 Washington families completely off the program.
Second, it eliminates financial bonuses awarded to states for efficiency and targeted growth. These bonuses promoted more effective administration of food stamps benefits so that food aid was efficiently delivered to those who qualified. Between 2002 and 2009, they prompted our state to decrease the number of administrative errors in food stamps administration by 59 percent, while increasing the participation rate by 62 percent.
That’s a revolution in cost-effectiveness – a revolution some members of the House of Representatives are trying to undo.
A nonpartisan analysis of SNAP participation and spending concluded that hard times have caused more people to enroll. Analysts project that the number of participating families will level out in 2013, followed by a slow decline at a rate similar to declines of previous decades.
That indicates that SNAP is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do – feeding families – and it’s doing it better than ever, thanks to state-level program efficiencies like paperless offices, streamlined reporting, telephone interviews, online program access and collaborative efforts with community-based organizations to reach seniors and families in need.
The changes in both versions of the Farm Bill fly in the face of everything we know about helping families rebound from economic downturns.
Last week, members of Congress, including Washington’s Representative Adam Smith, reminded Congress of the importance of SNAP: “Congress must stand up for SNAP funding, as the program plays a crucial role in our economic recovery," said Smith. "The best way to lower government spending on SNAP is not through major cuts, but by continuing to help families in need. In Washington state, the average SNAP recipient receives benefits for only nine months. In these tough economic times, SNAP is providing much-needed support in getting families back on their feet.”
Tell Congress that we are counting on them to vote for kids and families back home and against legislation that takes food out of the mouths of Washington kids.