In May I wrote about upcoming cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and said it was anyone’s guess where a compromise would leave the program. Now August is here, Congress is in recess, and still nothing has been done to stave off cuts scheduled for November; cuts that will lead to a decrease in benefits for nearly 652,000 Oklahomans.
Further cuts still seem inevitable. For the first time since 1973, the House of Representatives approved a version of the Farm Bill without including provisions for SNAP benefits at all. Since then, reports say the House has begun working on a plan to propose cutting $40 Billion from SNAP. This effectively doubles the cuts they proposed in their failed attempt to pass a Farm Bill in June.
Still, the Senate has yet to act on the House’s version of the Farm Bill, so the fight is not over. However, the Food Research Action Center (FRAC) is justifiably alarmed by recent developments, seeing them as an “assault on SNAP.” Robert Greenstein, President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, issued a statement on the subject last Friday calling the new proposal “stunningly harsh.” And while the policy debate on further cuts goes on in Washington, the current Farm Bill is set to expire in September.
The future of SNAP is unknown, but the history of the program is not. And to fully appreciate why SNAP is a vital part of the government’s safety net, it is important to look at this issue from a historical and scientific perspective. Why do we have food programs, including SNAP, in the first place? Why are these programs still needed today?
Anyone who follows the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ blog, Off the Charts, has probably seen the July 18th post which includes the video Making America Stronger: The U.S. Food Stamp Program. If you haven’t seen this 14 minute history of SNAP, I encourage you to do so. Then I’d encourage you to share the link, because we need to remember that hunger was literally killing kids in America before government leaders revamped the food stamp system in the 1970s. Thanks to their leadership, America made genuine progress fighting the worst evils associated with hunger, specifically death and disease.
Yet the progress we’ve made should not distract us from the persistent threat of hunger, or as it is commonly called now, food insecurity. Feeding a family today does nothing to address their hunger tomorrow. The wolf is ever at the door, and never more so than in hard economic times. Consequently, the need for programs like SNAP has increased since 2007, the year the video was created.
According to the CBPP, long-term unemployment due to a slow job market has resulted in high SNAP enrollment even after the official end of the Great Recession. The fact that low-wage jobs have replaced many middle-income jobs during the recovery is further motive to preserve the program until wages increase. According to the CBPP, low-wage workers often see a 10% increase in total income because of SNAP benefits. (See CNBC and the New York Times for more coverage of this issue).
Furthermore, research tells us that proper nutrition is vital to a child’s brain development. Children who are malnourished often suffer from behavioral and cognitive problems that lead to difficulties in school. If we want children in low-income families to thrive, we need to ensure kids have enough food to survive and the proper nutrition for their minds to grow strong. SNAP, and other government food programs such as WIC and the National School Lunch Program, provide this vital nutritional support. It would be a costly mistake is to view these programs as luxuries instead of necessities.