Washington – Millions of Americans , 47 million and counting, are starting this week off with the harsh realization that there will be less help available to put food on the table or stem the tide of poverty served up by a yet to recover economy and polarized Congress.
The SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), supportive of millions of the nation’s citizens and a boon to an economy lacking a steady flow of consumer spending, was dealt another blow on Friday when the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act increase in food assistance benefits expired.
“SNAP amounts to only 2 percent of the federal budget, and yet it continues to be targeted for additional cuts, cuts that will be devastating to millions of families,” said Congressman James Langevin in a statement on Friday.”
13% reduction takes its toll
Coming just two weeks after a power-play partisan government shutdown wreaked havoc on the lives of millions of working Americans, the decrease in supplemental food benefits to families struggling to survive comes as a harsh reminder that politics and continuing brazen GOP antics continue to chip away at even the barest of human necessities – food security.
Losing an estimated $5 billion in food assistance for Fiscal Year 2014, or 1.9 billion meals, the November 1 cuts effect one in every seven Americans. A 13.6 % reduction in benefits, struggling Americans took another hit, this time at the dinner table.
““Why is it that every time we discuss cutting costs in government, it is our most vulnerable citizens who pay the price?” asked Langevin.
GOP votes to cut an additional $40 Billion in Food Security
The House “Nutrition-only Farm Bill” bodes devastation for the food assistance program already reeling from Friday’s cuts. With each $1.00 of SNAP benefits adding $1.75 directly to the American economy, the proposed cuts bespeak losses at home and in business.
“There’s going to be a lot of conversation about the need to cut benefits with the Farm Bill being debated between the Senate and the House,” said Andrew Schiff, CEO of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. “I think it’s important for people to recognize that on November 1 benefits were already cut. What Congress is talking about is cuts way above and beyond what happened last Friday.”
The House passed the bill in a 217 to 210 in an overwhelmingly partisan vote, with only 15 Republicans casting a vote against $40 billion in cuts to the SNAP program over the next ten years.
The GOP bill would affect 850,000 households, with calculations predicting 4-6 million people losing their benefits entirely. The combined losses would exceed the 3.3 billion meals provided by the nation’s food network annually, according to Feeding America.
The House Bill also eliminated aid to “able-bodied” Americans with no dependents, even if they were out of work , unable to find work and living in high unemployment regions of the country. And if $40 billion in cuts weren’t enough, the bill prohibited the U.S. Department of Agriculture and states from advertising or promoting use of the food assistance program.
While the House is recommending $40 billion in cuts, the Senate bill removes $4 billion a much smaller number, but one that the program and families dependent upon it cannot afford.
180,000 RI recipients to take a hit at the dinner table
The Rhode Island numbers compiled by Feeding America.org as reported by the Rhode Island Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) are staggering. More than 180,000 SNAP participants or 17 percent of the Rhode Island population were affected by the cuts. An estimated $1,812,074 dollars in funding was cut for a 1-month period, with the annual loss at close to $22 million. Meals lost by Rhode Island’s neediest families totaled more than 629,000 in a 1-month period or 7.6 million meals foregone in one year.
“SNAP is designed to increase the number of people who are eligible during a recession. That’s the way it’s supposed to work,” said Schiff. “It’s an income tested program – a means tested program. If more people qualify because their income is down, and there’s more poverty, the program swells, because that’s the way it’s supposed to be. When the economy recovers, the program will be spending less money because the people will be getting jobs. They won’t qualify and they won’t be getting SNAP benefits anymore. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.”
Benefit cuts will significantly increase food shortages to Americans
A Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) report in August went so far as to bring awareness to the inadequacies in the program prior to November 1 expiration. Drawing attention to a report prepared by the OM (Institute of Medicine) and NRC (National Research Council), CBPP noted that “most household benefit levels are based on unrealistic assumptions about the cost of food, time preparation, and access to grocery stores.”
The CBPP reported 22 million children affected by the November cuts, half living in deep poverty, with further hardship and food insecurity likely.
SNAP households will see a reduction in monthly benefits from $11 for one individual to $36 for a family of four, with annual cuts ranging from $132 to $432.
Food pantries can’t support the cuts
National and local food support networks braced for the November 1 cut, taking effect at a time of the year when nationally an increase in need and request for assistance is seen across communities.
“We are very concerned about the impact this cut will have on struggling low-income people and our network food banks,” said Bob Aiken, CEO of Feeding America, a network of more than 200 food banks that serve the entire nation. “We anticipate that, faced with this sudden drop in their monthly food budget, many people who receive SNAP benefits will seek additional help from our food banks and the agencies they serve. Unfortunately, our food banks across the nation continue to be stretched thin in their efforts to meet sustained high need in the wake of the recession.”
“You’re supposed to wait,” said Schiff. “Wait until the economy picks up and people are earning more and leaving the program. You’re not supposed to do it prematurely. That’s what Congress is doing. They’re kicking people out before they have jobs. “
How can you help?
Schiff noted the need for volunteers at food pantries and distribution centers throughout the state with donations of time and able bodies appreciated.
“We want people to, if they can, volunteer to help their local organizations, too -not just the food bank. We have 178 member agencies across the state that are directly serving people and they need help,” he said.
The food pantries are the boots on the ground in the community getting food and meals out to those in need. The work done In the food pantries is a great logistical and physical effort according to Schiff, with more help and hands a must at a time when the food support network is servicing more citizens in need.