Cuts in food aid mean dire results
The benefit cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — known as SNAP — that began Nov. 1 will make it harder for millions of families to put food on the table at a time when many people in communities across the nation are still struggling.
SNAP benefits are already too low, and when that food runs out, the next stop is a food bank or food pantry. I have read the concerns about growth in the SNAP program, but I have also seen the explosion in the number of people using the pantries and meal programs in Vermont since the recession began.
Last year, concerned Vermonters and the Vermont Foodbank together made possible 8.34 million meals in Vermont, and it wasn’t nearly enough. The cuts will drive even more SNAP recipients to the charitable food system, but it is maxed out. This is not a manufactured crisis — it is real, and it will grow.
While a cut of $36 per month for a family of four may not sound like much to many of us, it means a lot for families on SNAP. With $36 I could buy a gallon of low-fat milk, a box of cereal, eight bananas, a loaf of wheat bread, some deli ham and cheese, two boxes of spaghetti, spaghetti sauce, some ground beef, some chicken breasts and four potatoes. I know people who live for a week, or more, on that much food.
Make no mistake: Cuts to SNAP will take food from the refrigerators and kitchen tables of struggling families, seniors and our children.
In the food-banking world, we measure things in terms of meals. The farm bill nutrition title passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last month contains nearly $40 billion in cuts to SNAP over 10 years. Taken together, the cuts to SNAP that begin this week and the proposed House cuts would result in a loss of nearly 3.4 billion meals.
That cancels out the 3.3 billion meals that Feeding America’s entire national network of more than 200 food banks and 61,000 local agencies expect to provide in 2014. Food banks cannot fill the gap that will be created.
SNAP is the first line of defense against hunger in this country, and it works. SNAP expands in hard times, not only by helping families buy groceries, but by freeing up resources for other needs such as rent, utilities, and medicine. It contracts in better times, and we look forward to that.
We can all agree that good-paying jobs are the best solution to hunger. The fact is that those jobs don’t exist for lots of people right now. In the meantime, it is essential to the fabric of our communities that our neighbors can feed themselves and their families.
It will be a challenge to enact a fiscally responsible farm bill, but we are confident that even in a time of limited resources, our nation can reflect our shared value of helping our neighbors who are trying their best to help themselves.
John Sayles is CEO of the Vermont Foodbank.