Last week, as I read about the president’s 2018 budget proposal — which calls for cuts of $193 billion nationally over 10 years to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps) — I couldn’t help but feel sadness over how hunger relief has become such a polarized topic, one marked by half-truths and misconceptions.
Regardless of political leanings, if we can just look at what’s actually happening on the ground in communities across America, we’ll see that calls to drastically reduce federal aid are coming at a very bad time.
As reported by Feeding America’s recently released “Map the Meal Gap” study, food insecurity and poverty remain higher than before the Great Recession. Even though the economy has been improving, millions of Americans facing hunger are finding it increasingly difficult to afford enough food and groceries to feed themselves and their families.
Cuts to SNAP and the Emergency Food Assistance Program would further hurt this already challenged population while straining the limited resources of food banks and charitable groups. Adding to the pain, states would be required to pay 25 percent of SNAP benefits under the president’s plan — for Florida, that’s $1.3 billion annually.
If the administration’s budget proposal were signed into law, Florida would be on the hook for $13 billion during the next 10 years. State lawmakers would have to find ways to make up the difference for the loss in federal funding by cutting areas like education or transportation — or, the more likely scenario, cutting SNAP benefits or instituting stringent eligibility requirements.
Some might find this ironic — and it’s a point that isn’t emphasized enough by either side — but the current administration and most hunger-relief organizations actually share a big common goal: They want people to become self-sufficient through work.
At Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, for instance, our free culinary program helps SNAP recipients gain valuable skills and full-time employment. Throughout the region, in fact, dozens of partner agencies that distribute food to the needy — like Covenant House, New Beginnings, Christian Care Center and Jewish Family Services — also have similar career-based programs that put lives back on track.
So when the president’s budget director says, “If you’re on food stamps and you’re able-bodied, we need you to go to work. If you’re on disability insurance and you’re not supposed to be — if you’re not truly disabled — we need you to go back to work,” that certainly resonates. (After all, no one likes it when people game the system.)
But storylines that focus on the negative just fuel stereotypes and don’t accurately portray the vast majority of people on federal aid.
Instead, Americans need to know that the average SNAP recipient is only on the program for seven months — and that regulations already require able-bodied adults without children to find work or risk losing their benefits. In addition, about 40 percent of people on SNAP are children, 25 percent are elderly, and the remaining are largely made up of the working poor, veterans and a small portion of the unemployed.
When compared with other government programs, SNAP has one of the lowest percentages of fraud and abuse. SNAP not only provides access to food for Floridians, but it’s also vital to the state’s economy. According to the Florida Policy Institute, $1 in SNAP benefits increases economic activity by at least $1.70 in Florida, contributing to the financial bottom line of the state. It also pumps money into local economies by supporting agriculture, retail and several other industries.
From my vantage point, the beautiful thing about hunger relief is how, every day, people on the left and the right come together to help their neighbors in need. As Congress moves forward with the budget process, my hope is that our elected officials will do the same.
If adequately funding federal programs that combat hunger is important to you, please join me in making your voice heard. Lives depend on it.
Source: Orlando Sentinel