Severe cuts to food programs in House farm bill would increase need, overwhelm charities

OPINION - Late Wednesday night, the House Agriculture Committee approved a farm bill that includes severe cuts to anti-hunger programs. The bill includes $21 billion in cuts to the nation’s largest nutrition assistance program...

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Late Wednesday night, the House Agriculture Committee approved a farm bill that includes severe cuts to anti-hunger programs. The bill includes $21 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the nation’s largest nutrition assistance program and the cornerstone of the nutrition safety net.

As a result of the cuts, 2 million individuals would lose their SNAP benefits entirely, 210,000 children would lose access to free school meals, and 850,000 households would see their SNAP benefits cut dramatically by an average $90 per month. The bill would intensely restrict states’ flexibility in how they administer SNAP in coordination with other low-income support programs like heating assistance (LIHEAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Feeding America estimates that these cuts would amount to more than 8 billion lost meals for struggling families.

If divided evenly across Feeding America’s national network of food banks, every food bank would need to provide an additional 4 million meals each year for the next ten years, and that is just not possible. There is no way that charity would be able to make up the difference. We are already stretched thin meeting sustained high need in the wake of the recession. We simply do not have the resources to prevent hunger for the millions of people who would be impacted by these cuts – the low-income working families, seniors, children, and individuals struggling to get by.

Food bank demand increased nearly 50 percent from 2006 to 2010, the latest available data. At the same time, 34 percent of Americans admit cutting back on donations to houses of worship, underscoring the importance of the federal role in protecting vulnerable families from hunger. Food benefits from federal nutrition programs totaled $96.9 billion in 2011, compared to an estimated $4.1 billion worth of food distributed by private charity.

All SNAP households are already slated to have their benefits cut this fall. SNAP benefits average less than $1.50 per person per meal, but on November 1, the typical household of three will lose around $20 to $25 in monthly benefits, increasing hardship for participants and shifting even more need to charitable food providers that face high demand and few resources.

‘Unacceptable scale’

At Feeding America, we have a strategic goal to increase our nationwide distribution by 1 billion meals over a five year time period to help meet the existing need. There is simply no way we can increase distribution by an additional 8 billion meals over the next 10 years to fill the massive proposed void.

Cuts on this scale are simply unacceptable

Strong communities require public and private partnerships. As individuals, charities, businesses and government, we all have a role to play in helping our neighbors in need and giving them a hand until they get back on their feet. Government must do its share to meet the need, not actively and dramatically increase it.

Strong communities also require the active engagement of individuals, businesses, and charities in public policy. Our government programs and federal budget are a reflection of our national values, and the best way for our values to be reflected – as individuals or as organizations – is to use our voice. That is why for the last several years, we have mobilized our food banks, connected with our partners, and called on nationwide networks of advocates to oppose cuts to hunger-relief programs. Congress must balance the budget, but it must not be done on the backs of millions of Americans struggling with hunger.

You can join us by calling on Congress to reverse course and restore cuts to SNAP as the farm bill moves forward. Together, we can make solving hunger a priority for our nation’s leaders. Call the Feeding America hotline at 886-527-1087 to be connected with your House Representative. Tell your representative that they must vote no when the farm bill goes to the House floor.

Bob Aiken is the President and CEO of Feeding America.