Keep Food on the Table, Protect SNAP in the Farm Bill

Op-Ed By Lorianne Burhop
September 4, 2013
Though the economy is slowly improving, we have a long road ahead of us as our nation works to rebuild.

The unemployment rate has fallen considerably from its peak in 2009, yet this improvement does not reflect the number of Americans struggling with underemployment. While mid-wage occupations constituted 60 percent of recession losses, they account for only 22 percent of recovery growth. By contrast, low-wage occupations represented 21 percent of recession job losses, but have made up 58 percent of recovery growth.

In addition, the official unemployment rate does not include the large number of people who want a job — and in many cases would likely have found one in a stronger labor market — but with jobs so hard to find, they have not looked enough recently to count as officially unemployed.

There is no question that jobs are the best solution to hunger. However, until jobs and opportunity are restored, one thing we can all agree on is that we need to ensure low-income families can put food on the table when they fall on hard times. The Farm Bill provides an opportunity to do just that. The Farm Bill includes funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), our nation’s largest public nutrition program.

Congress is currently working to reauthorize the Farm Bill, which also includes numerous farm and agricultural policies. The House recently passed a “farm only” version of the bill that did not include the nutrition title (the portion of the bill that includes SNAP). They are expected to take up a “nutrition only” bill following the August recess. Proposals for this nutrition bill are extremely concerning. The House bill is expected to contain up to $40 billion in cuts to SNAP, a level of cuts that would be devastating to low income families across Montana. The Senate’s version of the Farm Bill included $4 billion in cuts to SNAP, a level that would result in 1.6 billion lost meals over 10 years.

If the Senate Farm Bill were enacted, about 400,000 needy households would see their benefits go down by an average $90 per month. The House Farm Bill would decrease benefits by about $90 per month for 850,000 households and cause 2 million individuals to lose SNAP entirely. Even if Congress makes no changes to SNAP, benefits will decline for all participants on Nov. 1 when the ARRA benefit boost expires, falling by about $25 a month for a family of three. A recent report by the Institute of Medicine found that even current benefit levels are inadequate to maintain a healthy diet. Further cuts will only worsen health and hunger for millions of Americans.

Cutting SNAP benefits will delay our economic recovery and lead to long-term costs far greater than any immediate savings. SNAP has proven to be an effective economic stimulus creating approximately $9 in local economic activity for every $5 worth of benefits. In addition, SNAP supports seniors, children, and working families. Nearly 60 percent of SNAP households with a non-disabled, non-elderly member are employed, and nearly 90 percent of these households were employed during the previous or following year.

Until we address the issue of underemployment and the rising costs of health care, housing and other necessities, families will continue to depend on SNAP to get the nutrition they need to stay healthy. Investing in hunger relief is a cost-effective use of taxpayer dollars and an investment in our nation’s future. Hunger increases health care costs, lowers worker productivity, harms children’s development and diminishes their educational performance — these are costs that we cannot afford.

Please ask Congressmen Daines to support the thousands of Montana families struggling with hunger during upcoming Farm Bill negotiations by voting against harmful cuts to SNAP.