Friday, June 8, 2012

Opinion: Proposed Changes to Food Stamps will Harm Children, Seniors, Families and Communities

by David Davenport
CEO, 2nd Harvest Food Bank

There are a lot of myths circulating about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) and the people who receive assistance. It’s bad enough that these tall-tales further stigmatize the program, but now they are being used as justification for dangerous policy changes and funding cuts that would make it harder for struggling families to put food on the table.

The House budget that was recently passed proposes to convert SNAP to a block grant and cut its funding nearly 20 percent, cutting support for millions of low-income families. What is their justification for this?  That the program has grown too much in recent years and that many participants don’t really need the benefits?

It’s true SNAP has grown significantly in recent years. But it is only shocking that food stamp participation grew by 70% from 2006 to 2011. If you fail to mention that the ranks of the unemployed grew by 94% over the same period.

Supporters of block granting food stamps argue that this is a good thing for states, that a block grant gives more flexibility and that states know best how to solve their problems. What they don’t tell you is that a block grant is just Washington-speak for cutting funding and limiting federal responsibility – states have to solve the same problem, but with less resources. Some states would be able to meet the need, but many would not. Families would be subjected to a game of chance, not knowing if assistance will be there if they fall on hard times.

Food insecurity is a national problem that needs a national solution, and that starts with a strong federal commitment to SNAP.  SNAP responded quickly and effectively during the recession, working as it was designed by growing in response to growing need to ensure families, children, and seniors have enough to eat.

Food stamps are targeted at our most vulnerable: 76% of households receiving nutrition assistance included a child, elderly person, or disabled person, and 85% of food stamp households have gross income at or below 100% of the poverty line. And despite what you might hear, benefits are not overly generous—the average participant gets a monthly benefit of only $134, or less than $1.50 per meal.

At Second Harvest Community Food Bank, we serve families who have too much in income or assets to qualify for food stamps, as well as those families enrolled in food stamps but whose benefits do not last them through the month. At Second Harvest, we have seen a 60% increase in the demand for food assistance from 2009-2012. Without SNAP in place to respond to growing need in the recession, the increased demand on organizations like ours would have been crippling.

While you’re more likely to hear sensational stories of program abuse, the fact of the matter is that these bad actors are outliers. For every one allegation of fraud or trafficking, there are a hundred stories of heartbreaking need. Unfortunately, those are the stories you don’t hear – stories of close friends and supporters of Second Harvest that because of job loss now find themselves in the hunger line they once donated time and money to support.

I understand the importance of getting our nation’s fiscal house in order, and strongly believe that a good paying job is the best solution to the crippling challenge of hunger. But until we restore opportunity and mobility, our nation cannot walk back on our moral commitment to caring for our neighbors in need.

Taking care of our neighbors is an American value, and feeding our neighbors is a shared responsibility. None of us want to see our friends, neighbors or children go hungry. Food banks like Second Harvest see this every day reflected in the generous support of our volunteers and donors. This core belief is also reflected in our federal budget through important anti-hunger programs like food stamps.

We strongly urge our nation’s leaders to protect anti-hunger programs like food stamps and come together to find real solutions to tough problems. We also ask them and you to look at the food stamp program with fresh eyes and an open heart. If you have any doubt that families are struggling, please visit us at Second Harvest and meet the people whose lives are affected by this important program.

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