Sunday, May 6, 2012

Resist making SNAP judgments

Contributed by Dave Krepcho, President/CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

There are a lot of myths circulating about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)- formerly known as food stamps - and the people who receive benefits. This misinformation stigmatizes the entire program, but now they are being used as justification for dangerous policy changes and funding cuts that would make it harder for families struggling to get by day to day to put food on the table.

The House budget approved last month proposes to cut SNAP by nearly 20 percent, gutting support for millions of low-income families. The justification for this? The program has grown too much in recent years - too many people are getting benefits.

It's true. 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.

The agriculture committees are rewriting Farm Bill legislation beginning this month, and SNAP and other anti-hunger programs are at risk of cuts at a time when they need to be strengthened and protected.
Food insecurity is a national problem that needs a national solution, and that starts with a strong federal commitment to SNAP. During the recession, SNAP responded quickly to growing need to ensure that Florida families, children and seniors have enough to eat.

We've all heard the myths, but what about the facts? SNAP is targeted at the most vulnerable households: 76 percent of SNAPhouseholds include a child, elderly person or disabled person, and 85 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 just $134. That's less than $1.50 per meal.
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 SNAP fraud or trafficking, there are a hundred stories of heartbreaking need, but those are the stories you don't hear, such as single parents trying to make ends meet, senior citizens deciding whether they buy food or medicine and many more.

Our food bank experienced a 30 percent increase in requests for food this past year, and without SNAP, the increased demand on charities like ours would be crippling. We're struggling to keep up with need as it is, especially with recent sharp declines in federal food donations from The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which is another Farm Bill program.

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. We see this every day reflected in the generous support of our volunteers and donors.

We strongly urge our nation's leaders to protect anti-hunger programs like SNAP and make needed investments in TEFAP to protect families from hunger and help charities like ours keep up with need in our community. 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 Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida and meet the people whose lives are affected by the choices Congress will make in the Farm Bill.