THE BLOG

SNAP Works -- So Why Would We Slash It?

09/19/2013 04:27 pm ET | Updated Nov 19, 2013

The House of Representatives is about to consider legislation that will take away food from hungry American children and their families.

Responding to what some Republicans see as a terrible waste of resources, House leadership is introducing a nutrition reform bill that has nothing to do with nutrition. Instead, this bill will slash the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as "food stamps") by $40 billion over the next ten years, making it even more difficult for already struggling low-income families to feed their children.

This short-sighted House bill will neither create decent jobs nor help improve the economy. Quite the contrary. The bill will hamstring SNAP and by extension, the American people most in need of help. In one of the many devastating cuts, that of categorical eligibility, the bill will result in 15 billion lost meals for low-income families and take away free school meals from 210,000 hungry children.

I agree with our policymakers that we as a nation -- both the federal government and the charitable sector -- have failed to address the root cause of hunger. The lines of hungry American citizens waiting for food seems to only grow longer while the lists of job openings seem to grow shorter.

However, I disagree that SNAP is a waste of resources. At Feed The Children, I have seen how effectively SNAP meets the food needs. Far from being a waste, this program is vital in providing assistance for Americans who have hit hard times.

In the wake of the Great Recession and the anemic economic recovery, SNAP spending ballooned by 135 percent between 2007 and 2011. From May to June 2013 alone, program caseloads increased by 125,059. These numbers represent people forced to decide between paying for rent or putting a meal on the table every single day.

Some well-fed and successful politicians look at these increases and somehow conclude that poor families must be bilking the system. But the real data shows that SNAP reaches the neediest, most vulnerable people in our nation. The average SNAP household's income is just 58.5 percent of the federal poverty guideline, and 83 percent of all benefits go to households with a child, senior or disabled person.

These increases are not the result of manipulating the system; enrollment in SNAP is up because the program is working as it should.

As the Congressional Budget Office reported last year, "The primary reason for the increase in SNAP participants was the deep recession from December 2007 to June 2009 and the subsequent slow recovery; there were no significant legislative expansions of eligibility for the program during that time." In other words, the recession meant more low-income households legitimately qualified and applied for help from the program; SNAP expanded to meet the increased need. This is simple economics -- not manipulation. Without SNAP, poverty and hunger would have been far worse.

The current proposal is not a reform to SNAP; instead, it makes devastating and unnecessary cuts to a program that works. I fully support and welcome any sensible reform of programs to help our great nation. But in so doing, we must be judicious and not cut those programs which are actually beneficial. SNAP is very efficient, achieving one of the best records of accuracy of any government program, in providing benefits only to eligible households. Nearly 95 percent of federal spending on SNAP goes toward providing benefits to eligible households to purchase food, and nearly 90 percent of SNAP funds go towards healthy, nutritious food such as fruits, vegetables and grains.

We have the ability in America to ensure that all of our communities have access to healthy foods. We must then ensure that every child in this country receives enough nutritious food every day to grow and learn and be given the chance to break the cycle of poverty. The House bill accomplishes neither of these objectives.

I encourage you to call your local member of Congress and urge them to vote "NO" on this misguided Nutrition Reform Bill.