Much attention has been given to the fact that SNAP (food stamp) participation has grown significantly in recent years. When combined with myths about the program and the people who receive benefits, some are justifying dangerous policy changes and funding cuts that would make it harder for struggling families to put food on the table.
The U.S. House recently passed a budget resolution that proposed significant cuts to hunger-relief programs, including efforts to block grant SNAP and cut its funding nearly 20 percent. This would cut 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 that SNAP has grown significantly in recent years. But it is only shocking that SNAP participation grew by 70 percent from 2006 to 2011, if you fail to mention that the ranks of the unemployed grew by 94 percent over the same period. It's also true that SNAP participation is on the decline as the economy slowly improves.
Supporters of block-granting SNAP 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 fewer 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.
The program responded quickly and effectively during the recession, working as it was designed by growing in response to growing need to ensure that Central and Eastern Kentucky families, children and seniors have enough to eat.
SNAP is targeted at our most vulnerable: 82 percent of benefits go to households with a child, elderly person or disabled person, and over 80 percent of SNAP households have gross income at or below 100 percent of the poverty line.
And, despite what you might hear, benefits are not overly generous — the average participant gets a monthly benefit of only $125, or less than $1.40 per meal.
At God's Pantry Food Bank, we serve families who have too much in income or assets to qualify for SNAP, as well as those families enrolled in SNAP but whose benefits do not last them through the month.
Without SNAP to respond to growing need during the recession, the increased demand on charities 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 — a dad struggling to make ends meet after his hours were cut back at work; families who saw their life's savings decimated by a child's unexpected illness; a veteran who is disabled and unable to work; people who never thought they would need a helping hand, but now have nowhere else to turn.
We understand the importance of getting our nation's fiscal house in order and we strongly believe that a good paying job is the best solution to hunger and poverty. But until we restore opportunity and mobility, our nation cannot walk back on our 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 or neighbors go hungry. Food banks like mine see this every day, reflected in the generous support of our volunteers and donors. This value is also reflected in our federal budget through important anti-hunger programs like SNAP.
We strongly urge our nation's leaders to protect anti-hunger programs like SNAP and come together to find real solutions to tough problems. We also ask them and you to look at SNAP with fresh eyes and an open heart.
If you have any doubt that families are struggling, please visit us at GodsPantryFoodBank.org and meet the people whose lives are affected by this important program.