This is a guest blog post by WhyHunger‘s National Hunger Clearinghouse Outreach Coordinator, Christine Binder.
On November 1, the nearly 48 million Americans who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) had their benefits cut. Households are seeing a seven percent average reduction in SNAP benefits. This may not seem like a lot, but for a low-income family still trying to recover from the effects of the recession, it makes a big difference.
As an advocate working on the National Hunger Hotline (1-866-3-HUNGRY), every day I speak with people who are struggling to feed themselves and their families. Many of our callers have been particularly affected by the SNAP cuts and are looking for more information and help finding food. Earlier this month, a senior from Birmingham, Ala., called to ask for the number of her local SNAP office. She was worried after hearing about the SNAP cuts on the news, but she was not able to find out how much her benefits would be decreased. As a retiree on a fixed income, she needed to know how much she would have to spend on food in order to budget her already limited resources. Even a little less would mean tougher decisions at the grocery store and smaller portions.
A few days later, I received a call from a family with a young daughter. The father had lost his job due to the recession and the mother was working a part-time job to support the three of them. She had recently picked up a few extra hours at work, but as a result of her slight income increase, their SNAP benefits were cut. Then, due to the nationwide SNAP cuts on November 1, their benefits were reduced for the second time in two months. “I honestly don’t know how we’re going to make it,” she told me.
I was able to refer them to food pantries in their area, but it is unlikely that charity will be able to replace their lost benefits. Emergency food providers such as food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens distribute about $5 billion worth of food to hungry people each year. But this year, $5 billion is also the amount being cut from SNAP, which “makes it as if every single emergency food provider in the United States didn’t exist,” according to Joel Berg, executive director of New York City Coalition Against Hunger.
Food pantries are trying to provide food for an increasing number of people, despite decreases in both government support and donations. I recently spoke with the manager of a food pantry in Newark, N.J., who told me that “every week there are dozens of new people coming. We don’t give out full grocery bags anymore – more like half-bags. There’s only enough fresh produce to hand out every other week. I feel like I’m always apologizing.”
Some are defending the cuts because the boost to SNAP benefits provided by the 2009 Recovery Act was intended to be temporary, giving help to hungry families during the harsh recession. The truth, however, is that these cuts unnecessarily came nearly a year earlier than originally intended because Congress opted to fund other programs by taking money from the SNAP budget and did not return it as promised. These cuts are also not an isolated occurrence, but rather the latest in a line of government actions and inactions – sequestration, the expiration of the Farm Bill and the government shutdown – that have negatively affected federal nutrition programs.
In September, the USDA released a report indicating that rates of food insecurity have not decreased since the recession began in 2008; despite this, Congress is currently contemplating a Farm Bill that includes up to $40 billion in additional SNAP cuts over the next ten years. In times like these, it is wrong to take food away from children, seniors, veterans, people with disabilities and adults who have been unable to find adequate work due to the economy. Hungry people are already suffering; Congress need not add to their misery.
Photo Credit: Thinkstock