As we gather around the dinner table this holiday season, we are called to reflect on our blessings -- a healthy family, a job, a bountiful meal on the table. Yet there are millions of American families who are still rebuilding in the wake of the worst recession in decades -- and they still need help.
As a country, we have always prided ourselves on providing -- on a bipartisan basis -- a responsive food assistance safety net through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP recipients have fallen on tough times, and the program provides temporary help to put healthy food on the table -- but what does that mean in real terms?
SNAP recipients come from all walks of life. Ninety-one percent of SNAP recipients live in households with children, an elderly family member, a disabled person who cannot work, or adults who are working. SNAP serves 900,000 veterans each month.
SNAP recipients are poor. The vast majority of SNAP recipients have incomes far below the Federal poverty level. For a family of four, that's just a little over $23,000 per year. Last year, the extra support provided by SNAP prevented 4.7 million Americans, including 2.1 million children, from slipping back into poverty as they worked to get back on their feet.
SNAP recipients play by the rules. Over 99 percent of those receiving SNAP benefits are eligible. Over the last 15 years, USDA has reduced fraud in SNAP from 4 percent to around 1 percent.
SNAP recipients are working. In households where at least one adult is able to work, more than 80 percent work in the year before or after receiving SNAP.
In fact, the program is designed to incentivize work. Each additional dollar SNAP participants earn results in only about a 24-cent reduction in benefits. This provides a boost of 10 percent or more to a low-income worker's wages and allows them to stretch their dollars further as they get back on their feet.
That is why the strategy currently underway in the House to reduce SNAP by indiscriminately kicking millions of low-income families off the program, just as they are beginning to regain their footing, does not make sense.
The solution to reducing SNAP participation is not to punish low-income families when they are already working so hard to make ends meet. Instead, we should build on the administration's strategy of arming people with the skills they need to succeed in the workforce and creating the kinds of jobs that allow them to earn enough to support their families.
This is a proven strategy that is growing our economy and has already reduced the deficit by more than half. Recent projections also indicate that SNAP costs are beginning to level off and are projected to fall further in the coming years -- a result of the continuing economic recovery and fewer families needing the program.
Congress has the power to build on this progress with a long-term, comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that supports a strong agricultural economy, creates jobs, and provides healthy food for those who are temporarily in need.
Congress should use this opportunity to support sustainable policy that helps people find work and move off of SNAP. They can start by demanding greater accountability from States to ensure that the Federal dollars they receive each year for employment and training programs are invested responsibly. These programs should do the best possible job at building comprehensive skill sets and matching people with jobs.
In the meantime, let's not forget that the program is already experiencing a significant cut. On November 1, SNAP families began receiving fewer benefits each month due to an automatic benefit reduction.
For many families, coping with this cut will be tough, particularly during the holidays.
Fortunately, this is the time of the year in particular that food pantries and food banks are aided by generous Americans. But they cannot fairly be expected, and they are telling us that they cannot fully meet the need in their communities if SNAP is cut further.
That is why it is so imperative that Congress act now on a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill -- not only to support the continued revitalization of rural America, but to ensure a robust safety net that protects American families from hunger this holiday season and all year long as they work towards a brighter, more stable future.