Federal food aid to food-insecure Americans may be cut by as much as $16.5 billion if the U.S. House of Representatives gets its way with its farm bill this year. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ─ once known as food stamps ─ currently is the only food lifeline robust enough to address critical food needs for a large number of American households. Cuts in SNAP proposed by the House would take away benefits from over 2 million people, and cause almost 300,000 children to lose free school lunches. Close to 500,000 additional households would lose about $90 in monthly benefits.
If the House version of the bill goes into force, charities trying to make up the difference will be entirely overwhelmed with lines of SNAP outcasts.
According to Anne C. Goodman, president and CEO of the Cleveland Foodbank, “The challenges of addressing our nation’s deficit are considerable, but in a time of limited resources, our nation must make decisions that reflect our shared value of ensuring that all of our citizens have enough food. This cannot be accomplished without strong federal nutrition programs. Cuts to SNAP benefits or eligibility would only increase the overwhelming need food banks and local agencies are already seeing. And charities like ours, though we do more and more every year, cannot fill the gap that would be left.”
But for SNAP, the food gap that local charities in the United States try to bridge would amount to hundreds of millions of meals more than today ─ far beyond charitable organizations’ capability to deliver. In the past there has been a historical, bipartisan commitment to protecting nutrition assistance programs that serve vulnerable low-income families, children and seniors. The farm bill funds both the Emergency Food Assistance Program, which provides food directly to local charities, and the SNAP program.
According to Goodman, SNAP benefits are carefully targeted. Eighty-four percent of all benefits go to households with a child, an elderly person or a disabled person. Benefits are not overly generous. The average household gets a monthly benefit of $287, or less than $1.50 per person per meal.
During the recession, the program expanded to meet increased need, and it will contract when the economy improves. While SNAP enrollment increased by 70 percent from 2007 to 2011, unemployment increased by 94 percent over that same period. SNAP is working as intended, helping to ensure that families have food to eat when they need it.