The following opinion editorial by Connecticut Food Bank’s President & CEO Nancy L. Carrington, was published in the Waterbury Republican-American on Sunday, June 3, 2012
Deficit reduction is an important national priority, vital to our long-term economic opportunity and security. But just because it’s important doesn’t mean that it can be undertaken without regard to our national values.
Taking care of our neighbors is an American value, and feeding our neighbors is a shared responsibility. Unfortunately, a shocking proposal by House Republicans to cut food assistance for our nation’s hungry by over $33 billion goes against our core values as a nation. The cuts are proposed in the name of deficit reduction, but does not excuse the fact that cuts to anti-hunger programs at a time when need has never been greater are both reckless and short-sighted.
We are grateful that this value is reflected in Washington through important anti-hunger programs like SNAP, formerly Food Stamps. To suggest as noted in the Congressional Budget Office’s report that receipt of SNAP benefits may reduce one’s incentive to work or their willingness to ask for help from family or community networks is absurd.
We’ve all heard the myths, but what about the facts? SNAP is targeted at the most vulnerable households: 76% of SNAP households include a child, elderly person, or disabled person, and 85% of SNAP households have gross income at or below 100% of the poverty line. And despite what you might hear, benefits are not overly generous – the average participant gets a monthly benefit of just $134. That’s less than $1.50 per meal.
While you’re more likely to hear sensational stories of program abuse, the fact of the matter is that these bad actors are outliers. For every one allegation of SNAP fraud or trafficking, there are a hundred stories of heartbreaking need, but those are the stories you don’t hear – a dad struggling to make ends meet after his hours were cut back at work, families who saw their life’s savings decimated by a child’s unexpected illness; a veteran who is disabled and unable to work.
We know those stories because the people who turn to SNAP are often the same people served by Connecticut Food Bank. Many of them are people who never thought they would need a helping hand, but now have nowhere else to turn. Our clients include families enrolled in SNAP but whose benefits do not last them through the month, as well as families who have too much in income or assets to qualify for SNAP assistance. In Connecticut, more than half of the food insecure population does not qualify. (Note that food insecure is a technical and measurable term that indicates someone is at risk of going hungry).
Hunger is a national problem and it is one that needs a national solution, and that starts with a strong federal commitment to programs like SNAP. Nationwide, using the US Department of Agriculture’s research, we know that 16.6% of the U.S. population is food insecure. That’s a total of over 50 million people. Here in Connecticut, that’s more than 493,000 people and nearly 1 child in 5.
Every day Connecticut Food Bank, which provides food to 600 food pantries, soup kitchens and emergency shelters, relies on the generous support of our volunteers and donors. A large number of our member food assistance programs are doing fantastic work to help the more than 300,000 people in our service area who struggle with hunger. And while pointing out the good work of these programs, some suggest that they and other charity groups can solve the problem of hunger at the community level. Speaking from the frontlines, we know charity cannot do it alone. In fact, estimates suggest that charity provides only about 6 percent of all the food assistance in the United States.
Connecticut Food Bank is already struggling to meet the tremendous increase in need from the recession. We can barely keep up as it is because of declining federal support for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which provides nutritious commodities for distribution through local charities. This year, we expect to experience a 50 percent reduction in TEFAP. There is no way that we would be able to make up the difference if SNAP were cut. Food banks like ours need more supply, not more demand.
Congress should put the nation’s interests first and meet in the middle to craft policies that spur economic recovery, ensure broad and sustainable opportunity, and protect families when opportunity remains out of reach, including making sure that SNAP and food pantries are here to put food on the table until struggling Americans are back on their feet. If cuts are made to SNAP and other federal food assistance programs, we would not be able to food bank our way out of the resulting crisis.