07/19/2013 04:52 pm ET Updated Sep 18, 2013

Hungry in America

Right now, lawmakers are once again revisiting one of America's most sweeping and crucial pieces of legislation -- the farm bill. Living in an urban environment like Chicago, it's easy for us to say 'what does a farm bill have to do with me?' The answer, though, is bigger than any farm. This bill affects each and every community across the country, impacting our food chain and more importantly, impacting what kind of support those in poverty have as they struggle to get ahead.

The farm bill, which covers subsidies for farmers and the budget for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program -- which is commonly known as food stamps -- is reviewed every five years and is among the most important to those living in poverty, struggling to feed their family. This year's bills in both the house and the senate propose cuts to SNAP funding -- a program that is already drastically underfunded. The average monthly SNAP benefit per person is $139.45. That's less than $1.50 per person per meal. Currently, the senate bill proposes cutting SNAP funding by $3.9 billion. The house bill proposes a cut of $20.5 billion.

It's easy to lose sight of the fact that these aren't just numbers in a budget sheet. It's food that's taken out of the hands of the most vulnerable -- particularly children, the elderly and the disabled, who receive 76% of all SNAP funding. These families have few other options and without the meager support offered by current SNAP benefits, they often go hungry. As it is now, most participants run out of SNAP benefits by the third week of the month. Fifty-eight percent of recipients turn to food banks at least six months out of the year.

We can't afford to cut any deeper and we can't afford to turn our backs on those struggling in poverty. At Heartland Alliance, the Midwest's leading anti-poverty organization, where I work, I see the effects of such poverty every day. It's written in the faces of husbands who are desperately trying to provide for their children. It's visible in the eyes of someone on the verge of homelessness and of someone fighting a chronic illness with no place to turn for help. These are the very people who stand to lose the most in cuts to feeding programs like SNAP -- people fighting for stability but with few of the tools they need to help them get there. We can't cut further into a program that provides for such a basic need. It's time to invest in moving forward, not back.