By Roberta Downing, PhD (Senior Legislative and Federal Affairs Officer, APA Public Interest Directorate – Government Relations Office)
Did you know that more than half (55%) of recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (formerly “food stamps”) are living below half of the poverty line? That’s an income of about $9,500 for a family of three! Can you imagine living at this income level and trying to feed a family?
SNAP provides basic food to the most vulnerable Americans. Nearly two-thirds of SNAP recipients are children, seniors, and individuals with disabilities. Yet, cuts to this program are bound to increase food insecurity for millions of Americans who struggle with hunger. This is the last place that Congress should look for deficit savings.
SNAP spending increased significantly during the Great Recession. Families continue to struggle in a weak economy where unemployment remains high (at 7.3%). Fifteen percent of Americans (i.e., 46.5 million people) including 22% of American children, continued to live in poverty in 2012. In short, the need for help is great.
SNAP benefits are already being cut
On November 1st, every SNAP recipient across the nation experienced an across-the-board cut, as an increase in SNAP benefits that was part of the 2009 federal stimulus came to an end. This cut has resulted in nearly 48 million people, including 22 million children, losing benefits equivalent to $29 per month for a family of three. SNAP already provides very modest benefits; the average recipient receives about $133.41 per month (or about $4.45 a day). Despite the cuts that have just taken place, Congress stands ready again to cut SNAP even more in the months to come, as they aim to pass a farm bill.
More SNAP cuts are expected in the Farm Bill
Every five years, Congress reauthorizes SNAP as part of the farm bill—legislation that addresses our nation’s agriculture programs. This year, the Senate voted on a bipartisan basis to cut SNAP by $4 billion in the farm bill. The House of Representatives passed a bill in September that would slash the SNAP program by an astounding $40 billion. A conference committee is working right now to negotiate a compromise between these two bills. Regardless of what compromise is reached, SNAP recipients will be hit with yet another cut whenever the next farm bill becomes law, given that both chambers have already passed bills with billions of dollars of SNAP cuts.
Contact your Members of Congress.
Tell them to protect SNAP in the farm bill! Time is of the essence. Farm bill negotiations are taking place right now. Urge your representatives not to target SNAP for savings in the federal budget.
Tell them: Don’t put Americans at even more risk of hunger! Don’t let children, individuals with disabilities, and the elderly suffer in the name of deficit reduction!
Suggested Additional Reading and Media:
American Psychological Association: Effects of Poverty, Hunger, and Homelessness on Children and Youth
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: November 1 SNAP Cuts Will Affect Millions of Children, Seniors, and People With Disabilities: State-by-State Figures Highlight the Impacts Across the Country
Watch “A Place at the Table” (available on Netflix) which is a powerful documentary about hunger in America.
For basic background info on the SNAP program: Introduction to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)