Unemployment rates are down from the peak of the recession, but the national unemployment rate, stuck stubbornly high at 7.4 percent, only tells part of the story. It neglects to tell you about the millions of long-term unemployed workers who have been unemployed for six months or more. It fails to capture those who have discontinued fruitless job searches. It overlooks the story of those who have returned to work, but for much lower wages than they received before the recession. As we approach Labor Day, 2013, the real state of employment and opportunity in America remains a serious challenge for many.
Of the 11.5 million individuals who were unemployed in July, more than a third (about 4.3 million) were long-term unemployed. An additional 8.2 million people were working part time either because their hours had been cut back or they could not find full-time work. Moreover, a majority of the jobs created since the recession (58 percent) are in low wage occupations.
With an increased number of discouraged workers and insufficient incomes, the need for food assistance is at an all-time high. Thankfully our nation's anti-hunger programs were in place to meet the increased need. As the number of unemployed people increased by 94 percent from 2007 to 2011, food stamps (now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) responded with a 70 percent increase in participation over the same period. The program worked as intended to provide temporary, immediate food assistance in tough times.
With need at record levels, now is not the time for Congress to cut benefits or restrict access to SNAP. And yet, the nutrition-only farm bill that House Republican Leadership is expected to bring up after the August recess would do just that, cutting SNAP by a proposed $40 billion. Instead of applauding the program for responding quickly and effectively to increased need and protecting their constituents from hunger, they would slash SNAP funding and cut benefits and eligibility for millions of struggling, low-income individuals at a time of historic need. With the highest poverty rate in the state of Ohio in my district, I know that many constituents are deeply worried about making ends meet. They tell me of their struggles and literally choosing between paying for medicine and food because they cannot afford both.
According to an estimate by Feeding America, the nation's largest hunger-relief charity, 15 billion meals would be lost over the next 10 years as a result of the House proposal. Put differently, every food bank in Feeding America's national network would have to provide an additional 7.5 million meals each year for the next ten years to replace the meals lost by the SNAP cut. I am not sure if you have visited your local food bank recently, but I have, and they will be the first to tell you that charity cannot make up the difference if Congress cuts SNAP.
Some members of Congress have pointed to the growth in participation in SNAP as a sign of bloated government, lack of program accountability, or erosion in the American values of work and self-sufficiency. None of these allegations are true. In fact, SNAP is highly efficient. Over 95 percent of federal SNAP dollars go directly to benefits. The remaining 4.8 percent includes important services like employment and training services that help participants move from welfare to work, fraud prevention and federal oversight of the roughly 200,000 retail stores that accept SNAP benefits. In 2012, SNAP had a payment accuracy rate of 96.2 percent, an all-time program high for the program and one that is considerably higher than other major benefit programs. Among SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, more than half work while receiving SNAP--and more than 80 percent work in the year prior to or the year after receiving SNAP. Only 8 percent of SNAP participants receive Temporary Assistance for Needy families (TANF) benefits.
In challenging times, we as Americans have always stepped forward to help our neighbors in need. We are on the road to economic recovery, but until our nation creates more jobs -- good paying jobs -- many families will remain strapped for resources as they struggle to put food on the table. There is still a long path ahead as more jobs are created and opportunities restored. In the meantime, Congress should strengthen and protect vital anti-hunger programs like SNAP instead of making struggling families worry about where they will get their next meal.