Looming Fate of SNAP Threatens Welfare of Millions

Looming Fate of SNAP Threatens Welfare of Millions

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By Damon C. Williams for the Philadelphia Tribune

If data from a recent report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is correct, there will be nearly 2 million hungrier households this fall, when funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP – is set to be slashed.

According to the report, the cut will take effect in November, and is the result of an expiring provision included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“This small increase in food assistance has been a lifeline for many Pennsylvanians, a majority of whom work but earn low wages,” said Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center Director Sharon Ward. “It has allowed many families to stay afloat during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.”

The report, co-released by the Coalition Against Hunger, shows that 1.8 million Pennsylvanians will suffer a reduction in benefits, averaging out to 21 lost meals per month. Nationwide, more than 47 million Americans – a figure which includes 22 million children – receive some level of SNAP benefits, and proponents claim that every dollar spent through SNAP generates $1.70 in economic activity.

“For families of three, the cut will be $29 a month — a total of $319 for November 2013 through September 2014, the remaining months of fiscal year 2014. That’s a serious loss, especially in light of the very low amount of basic SNAP benefits. Without the Recovery Act’s boost, SNAP benefits will average less than $1.40 per person per meal in 2014,” read the report, in part. “The cuts are especially painful in light of the inadequacy of existing benefit levels. In a report issued by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, nutrition experts identified several shortcomings with the current SNAP benefit allotment; noted that most household benefit levels are based on unrealistic assumptions about the cost of food, time preparation, and access to grocery stores; and recommended evaluating ways of changing the benefit calculation to better ensure that households have enough resources to purchase an adequate diet.

“More recent research finds that boosting SNAP benefits during the summer for households with school-aged children who don’t have access to USDA’s summer food program cut very low food security among these households by nearly 20 percent,” the report continued. “Given this research and the growing awareness of the inadequacy of the current SNAP benefit allotments, we can reasonably assume that a reduction in SNAP benefit levels of this size will significantly increase the number of poor households that have difficulty affording adequate food this fall.”

The across-the-board cuts scheduled for November will reduce the program by $5 billion in fiscal year 2014 alone, including $183 million in Pennsylvania. Cuts of that magnitude will have a significant impact on low-income families.

Many official food pantries, outlets and coalitions from across the state have come out in unison in support of refunding SNAP, including Zaebst, the interim director of the Coalition Against Hunger in Philadelphia, who noted that “This is the first time in the history of the program that families will see their SNAP benefits drop overnight.”

And Ken Regal, executive director of the Pittsburgh-based Just Harvest organization, said “food stamps have been a critical support for working families who are confronting poverty,” while saying it touched on immorality for a country as rich as America to have so many hungry citizens.

“We shouldn’t forget that the majority of recipients are children and the elderly, for whom food assistance is essential,” Regal said. “It is unconscionable that the richest nation in the world would take food out of the mouths of its most vulnerable citizens, who are struggling through no fault of their own.

“There should be no cuts to this modest assistance.”

 

Contact staff writer Damon C. Williams at (215) 893-5745 or dwilliams@phillytrib.com.

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