This holiday season, more than 500,000 Minnesotans in need are finding it harder to put food on the table. Beginning Nov. 1, all of the nearly 48 million people nationwide who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) to get enough food to eat each day — including seniors, people with disabilities, veterans and low-income working families and their children — received a cut to their benefits when a provision in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) expired. The provision’s purpose was to provide a modest increase in benefits to help boost the economy and reduce hardship.
With the economy still struggling to recover from the Great Recession, and some 22 million Americans still unemployed or underemployed, cuts to SNAP are already having a significant impact on families who, for a family of three, are seeing a reduction of $29 a month. That may not seem like a lot, but for a family whose benefits after the cut average only $1.40 per person, per meal, the reduction is making already tough decisions — like paying the bills or feeding a hungry child — even tougher.
And for many, these decisions may get even harder. Congress is currently debating the future of SNAP in negotiations over a farm bill. In September, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would deeply cut SNAP (by nearly $40 billion) and eliminate assistance for nearly 4 million people around the country, including some of the poorest Americans, many children and seniors, and even veterans.
The proposed cuts would hit some of the nation’s poorest children in families where parents are out of work and would terminate assistance for many low-income working families where high child-care and housing costs make it difficult to afford food.
In order to justify these damaging cuts, proponents have characterized them as the institution of “work requirements.” But the reality is that the proposed cuts would cut off basic food assistance for many people, and in some cases their children, who want to work, but cannot find a job. If they are not working, it would require them to be in a job training program, but it does nothing to ensure that one would be available.
Should these deep cuts become law, low-income Americans who are already struggling to keep food on the table this holiday season will be left even hungrier.
Food shelves in Minnesota have already been struggling to keep up with demand, which increased during the recession. Our emergency food-shelf network cannot fill the food gap. It is already strained by servicing 3 million visits a year! According to Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks, the SNAP cuts passed by the House of Representatives and being considered by farm-bill negotiators, when combined with the across-the-board cuts that already took place at the beginning of November, would exceed the projected annual meal distribution by all of their food banks around the country — a total of 3.3 billion meals.
With so many people continuing to struggle this holiday season, it is important that the public knows the significant impact that cuts to basic food assistance will have to so many people in our communities, whether they are struggling to feed their children with a low-wage job, have lost their job and cannot find work, or are a veteran needing a helping hand after returning home from serving our nation.
I hope readers of this commentary will ask Congress to refuse these alarming proposals in any final deal. We have three Minnesota leaders on the conference committees that are making these decisions: Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Tim Walz and Rep. Collin Peterson. Let’s tell them to focus on fixing our economy so that all people who are looking for work can find it.
Colleen Moriarty is the executive director of Hunger Solutions Minnesota.
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