Standing Up for the Federal Nutrition Safety Net

17/May/17 / 12:32

by Bernie Beaudreau

The new administration in Washington will soon begin debate on a budget, with important implications for the federal nutrition safety net, driven by generational changes in legislation and viewpoints on federal spending cuts.


That was the message we heard from Bob Greenstein, Founder and President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and a new Feeding America Board member, who addressed the national network of Feeding America food banks at their annual conference in April. Bob retold the story of the bipartisan history and importance of the federal nutrition safety net, with a particular focus on SNAP (originally known as Food Stamps).


The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is a nonpartisan research and policy institute focused on state and federal policies to reduce poverty and inequality and restore fiscal responsibility.


Greenstein outlined current threats to these programs and argued strongly that now is the time for food banks and community-based food assistance programs to advocate on behalf of the people who need help to meet basic needs.


“Most big interest groups, especially those dealing with interests where large amounts of money are at stake have lobbyists,” Greenstein said. “Poor people don’t have a lobby.”


That is why it’s up to us. We have a responsibility to advocate for the people we serve and  educate policy makers and our communities about the value of these programs and the consequences cuts would have.


Since the late 1960s and early 1970s when Senators Bob Dole and George McGovern helped President Nixon develop the food stamps program we now know as SNAP, federal safety net programs have been the foundation of our nation’s progress on fighting poverty. Safety net programs today lift about 40 million Americans above the poverty line each year, Greenstein said. SNAP alone is responsible for lifting 10 million people above that line each year.


Greenstein cited a study done five years ago that took a 35-year look back at children raised in counties with SNAP and counties without SNAP programs. Children from SNAP counties had better health as children and as adults. They had higher high school graduation rates. Girls grew up to be women with higher earnings and employment rates than their counterparts in counties without SNAP. Data proves the importance of safety net programs in general, but especially of SNAP, Greenstein said.


Philosophical approaches to spending cuts in the current political climate threaten programs and risk plunging people into poverty by weakening systems that are effective and accountable. We must educate and advocate on behalf of these programs and the people who will be devastated if they are cut.


We are working with our colleagues at Foodshare to convene a meeting in September – Hunger Action Month – that will bring together leadership from food policy and food assistance organizations across Connecticut to help us move forward together to make a powerful and fact-based case in support of people who struggle to meet basic needs in our communities.


Please take some time to watch Bob Greenstein’s remarks here: To view the video, enter the password: leadingchange


Visit the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities web page to see some of their reporting on the fiscal implications of spending cuts.


Follow our Issues and Advocacy page for updates on our activities.


Thank you for joining us in this important work.