The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the nation’s number-one defense against hunger. And it’s shaped by the Farm Bill, a piece of legislation renewed every five years by Congress, and up for consideration in the Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday.
Much of the Farm Bill debate centers on farm subsidies. Wealthy, vested interests are sure to weigh in. But with more than 1 million Washingtonians participating in Basic Food (our name for the program here in Washington), we need to make sure the voices of hungry families are heard.
Otherwise, the changes some in Congress are pushing for will increase poverty and malnutrition among kids. Protecting Basic Food is a key part of our strategy to end childhood hunger.
The modern food stamp program was inspired by a 1968 CBS documentary, “Hunger in America,” which shocked the country by showing children dying of severe malnutrition. Moved to action, Congress worked in a bipartisan manner to expand the food stamp program and improve access. They knew that without it, people would starve. It was simply the right thing to do.
Since then, SNAP has proven itself as an efficient and highly effective program. With error rates at an all-time low, it is one of the most responsive federal programs during economic downturns. In fact, a recent study by the Agriculture Department found that food stamps significantly reduced the poverty rate during the recent recession.
Although benefits are modest (averaging $1.50 per meal per person), the program provides eligible working families with vital food assistance. Nearly half of all SNAP recipients are children and over a quarter are seniors and people with disabilities.
Like most states, we have seen an increase in the number of people struggling to put food on the table. The Great Recession’s grip has many families choosing between food and other basic needs like rent, heat or medications. Yet SNAP is facing severe funding cuts and dangerous policy changes in Congress.
Last Monday, nearly 100 Washington community organizations sent a letter to our Members of Congress asking them to stand up against proposals to block grant or cut SNAP. Policy experts have found that block granting assistance programs, as Congress did to TANF in the mid-1990s, serves to make poverty worse.
Instead, Congress should help combat hunger in the following ways:
- Retain current state options that streamline SNAP and maximize benefits to eligible households.
- Continue the boost to Basic Food benefits provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
- Restore benefits for ALL immigrants with documentation who lost eligibility status due to changes to the law in 1996.
- Exempt the base allowance for military households when determining eligibility and benefits for SNAP.
Contact your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative and tell them to strengthen and support the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program now! If you have been helped by the program, please tell us about it. Your own story could move lawmakers to do right by hungry families.