Everywhere I go, I hear stories of seniors, veterans, and the working poor who use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This includes returned servicemen and women who spent holidays away from their families, missing major milestones while abroad in service to their country; previous generations who have worked hard to build our American infrastructure brick by brick; and even people working in the service industry across the nation.
SNAP serves 900,000 veterans and nearly 3.8 million elderly adults each and every month. While 60 percent of SNAP recipients are not required to work, either because they are children, elderly, or disabled, the vast majority of adults who are able and expected to work, want to work and do so.
These people all serve their country and its citizens in some capacity. They work hard to keep us safe and secure, to build a strong, sustainable economy, to put food on the table for their families. America is a better country for their service.
And yet, for millions of those folks, making ends meet in the wake of the worst economic recession in history is still a daily struggle, a fact which is reflected by participation in the program. After 2007, more people became eligible for SNAP because they lost their jobs or had their hours and incomes cut. Others who were already eligible for the program faced increased need -- that is, additional hardship in the wake of the recession led them to choose to enroll in the program.
It is a good thing that we live in a country where a strong safety net exists to support those who find themselves in need. In a country as bountiful and blessed as the United States, no one should go hungry.
Some are returning to jobs that pay less, or they may now be working fewer hours, or they are supporting what was once a dual-income household with just one income. In November 2013, nearly 7.7 million people were considered involuntary part-time workers, either because their hours were cut or because they could not find full-time employment.
They are working hard -- and want to keep working -- but still need a little help getting back on their feet.
While times are still tough for those on Main Street, the picture is slowly improving. The economy continues to recover and grow. We believe, and leading economists and other experts agree, that as the economic recovery continues fewer people will need and qualify for the program. And data backs us up: the Congressional Budget Office predicts that SNAP spending will begin to fall in the next year and beyond. That's promising news.
In the meantime, SNAP is there for those who need it most, whether they are older Americans and returning servicemen and women who may need longer-term support; or hardworking moms and dads who need a temporary boost to help put healthy food on the table for their families.
That is why Congress must act to pass a comprehensive, long term Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that ensures strong nutrition assistance programs and provides access to healthy food for those who need it most. A new Farm Bill is critical not only for the continued revitalization of the rural economy, but for a robust safety net that ensures that no American goes hungry this holiday season or any other day of the year.
Follow Kevin W. Concannon on Twitter: www.twitter.com/USDANutrition