Opinion: DEFENDING SNAP By Claire De Pree
By Claire De Pree
Working as an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, I am meeting many SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) clients, helping people who are not receiving this benefit to sign up for assistance, and I am currently in the process of applying for SNAP myself. Through my own experience, and by helping people access this important safety net program, I can see the impact that SNAP makes. Not only does this program relieve stress from families by helping them stretch their food dollars, but also decreases the strain on local and regional food banks to provide emergency food to households.
SNAP is a program that is designed to offer temporary assistance to those who are struggling with food insecurity. SNAP provides households with a set monthly amount —a value which is based on a variety of factors such as income, assets, ability to work, citizenship, and whether there are children, disabled, or elderly in the home. This monthly benefit is used by families to buy groceries so that they can have enough to eat.
In addition to alleviating hunger, the SNAP program addresses many of the additional negative health consequences directly related to food insecurity, such as obesity and challenges in educational success. Families that receive SNAP can stretch their food dollars, and are able to integrate healthier food choices into their diets with the extra financial assistance this program provides. Another way that SNAP alleviates the broader effects of food insecurity relates to education. Hungry kids have a hard time focusing and performing in school. Children in low-income families that receive SNAP benefits perform better academically when compared to kids in low-income families who are not receiving SNAP.
SNAP is under threatened right now.
Recently, SNAP has come under attack on the federal level. On Thursday, October 5th, the House passed the Fiscal Year 2018 budget resolution. The House budget proposes $150 billion in cuts to the SNAP program over the next 10 years. These different versions will go through a reconciliation process before the final version is approved.
These cuts to SNAP would occur in two ways. The first way would be through direct cuts to the program. The Agriculture Committee is required to identify at least $10 billion worth of cuts to those programs which they oversee, and while they have jurisdiction over many programs, most of the cuts would likely come from the SNAP program (based on the language in the Budget Committee’s documents).
Secondarily, long-term cuts to SNAP would occur by the re-allocation of SNAP funding to the states in the form of block grants. This move threatens SNAP due to the unequal nature of the distribution of these block grants. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a video from March of this year which explains the nature of block grants and the damage they would inflict, which can be found at this link: [www.cbpp.org].
Another reason that block grants are particularly harmful is because they would limit the capacity of the SNAP program to respond to economic fluctuations like the Great Recession of 2007, and the financial crisis of 2008. During these crises, so many Americans were left without jobs, struggling to feed their families. Without the assistance SNAP could provide during these years of national hardship, many families would have been living under even more dire circumstances.
What you can do
If you believe SNAP is a program that deserves protection, the good news is that there are actions you can take to help.
Before anything else, I believe that educating myself about SNAP policy and what is happening on the national level has been an integral step in my ability to effect change and protect this program that I believe in and care about.
There are tons of great sources online – one of my favorite sites is FRAC (Food Research and Action Center). They send out reports weekly on all things related to anti-hunger work, and they are great at explaining policy and legislative decisions and changes using accessible language. Their online database is a wealth of knowledge, and you can also sign up to be on their email list to have reports and articles sent directly to you.
Twitter is also a great way to stay informed. Trending hashtags help lead you to reliable news sources that share links to their articles. Following accounts for news sites that you trust is also a great way to stay up-to-date. Twitter is a more casual way of staying informed compared to sites like FRAC. Some good accounts to follow are @fractweets, @ARHungerRelief, and @CenterOnBudget.
Finally, go to state legislative hearings that are related to SNAP and other safety-net programs like Medicaid. You can find the meeting schedules for the Arkansas Legislature if you follow this link: http://www.arkleg.state.ar.us.
Be aware of misinformation used to justify de-funding SNAP.
Some common rhetoric used to justify defunding SNAP relies on (often sensationalized) stories of fraud and abuse. While fraud does happen, this justification is often blown out of proportion. The SNAP program has a 98% accuracy rate. Cases of fraud in SNAP, estimated at less than 1 percent, are lower than any other federal benefit program. More than 4 million Americans desperately need the assistance this program provides to feed themselves and their families [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, January 2017]. The following link provides a good overview on the reality of the extremely low rate of fraud in the SNAP program: www.fns.usda.gov.
Another common justification for de-funding SNAP is that it is a drain on taxpayers. This is also simply not true. Every dollar in SNAP benefits generates $1.70 that goes back into the local economy. Not only does SNAP help hungry Americans, but it boosts local economies as well. Many local grocery stores can keep their doors open and their shelves stocked because of the influx of money each month from SNAP recipients.
Make your voice heard.
When Congressional action is being taken, you can call, email, and text your members of Congress to voice your opinion. Legislators often listen closely to their constituency. The actions of Americans who called their senators made a huge difference in protecting the Affordable Care Act (ACA) from being repealed without a replacement, and prevented Graham-Cassidy from being passed last month – both pieces of legislation which would have taken healthcare away from millions of Americans. Don’t ever underestimate the power your opinion holds. Had people not picked up their phones to call their senators, the ACA may not have been saved. In reference to the budget resolution, advocacy groups like FRAC recommend this simple, straightforward ask: tell your legislators to vote no to cuts, no to structural changes, and no to block grants for SNAP.
If you have never contacted your legislators, I have included some tips and resources to help get you started. Making calls doesn’t feel easy for me, and I know many of my close friends and family members have struggled to balance their desire to make their voice heard with the anxiety and stress provoked by talking on the phone. It could be helpful to follow a script for each call you make. There are endless scripts online – just search in Google, and pick the one that works best for you.
Recruit others in the fight to protect these programs and the people they serve. Talk to your friends and family about what you learn about SNAP and other safety net programs. The more people who are committed to protecting these programs, the better. Share any sources that helped you learn, encourage your friends and family members to call their legislators and tell them to protect SNAP from the cuts that will literally take food from the mouths of America’s hungry.
Through my work here at the Alliance helping people apply for SNAP, as well as going through the process of learning all I that can about SNAP, it is impossible to be unaware or dispassionate about the reality facing Americans who are struggling with hunger. Hunger is a pressing national problem and here in Arkansas where 1 in 7 people struggle with hunger. People need assistance from safety-net programs like SNAP to live. A lack of access to food is a life or death issue.
I strongly believe that nobody should have to go to bed hungry, and I am committed to doing everything I can to make that belief a reality. If you believe the same, I hope the suggestions put forth in this article have empowered you to act.
Claire DePree is an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance’s SNAP outreach team. She is a graduate of Hendrix College where she earned a B.A. in Biology and Spanish. Claire hopes to continue working in the non-profit sector in conservation research or outdoor education.