SNAP: Still Fighting for the “Stamp” of Approval

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November 13, 2012 by lizzyannsanders

Working in the Durham Health Department this summer, I began to see just how instrumental SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is to the food security of many families in America. Part of my job required me to spend time at Durham Social Services, where Durham families go to register for SNAP benefits. The placed was always packed with people filling out SNAP paperwork and asking questions about the program. Being in this environment helped me see just how many families are not only interested in the SNAP program, but are also reliant on SNAP to help make ends meet for their families. 

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The main argument for maintaining SNAP funding is really simple and straightforward: SNAP helps American’s struggling families keep food on the table. When Americans are struggling, or the nation faces a crisis, SNAP can respond quickly and efficiently to make sure that there’s food for lower income families. Supplying food through SNAP does not just help to fill the stomachs of lower income families; it builds stronger kids and families to subsequently strengthen our nation’s workforce.

 So what would be the damage if SNAP were cut by the amount that the House Agricultural Committee has proposed? Cutting SNAP by 16.5 billion dollars would have wide ranging affects on lower income Americans. Changes in eligibility requirements will result in millions of Americans losing their SNAP benefits. Furthermore, nearly 300,000 lower income children will lose their access to free meals at school.

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If SNAP is such an important program for millions of Americans, why does funding for SNAP get cut? SNAP funding often becomes a target for Republicans in congress that won their seats in congress on promises of cutting government spending. The whole 2012 Farm Bill has the potential to reach nearly a trillion dollars. SNAP represents an easy target; billions of dollars can be cut from SNAP without offending agricultural lobbies. The power of these agricultural lobbies in the development of the Farm Bill is staggering. For example, agricultural lobbies spent a grand total of $116 million dollars just in lobbying for the 2012 Farm Bill. Lawmakers also have the interests of agriculture from their home states in mind when legislating the Farm Bill. Southern lawmakers, for example, will likely legislate in favor of funding for peanut and cotton farmers. SNAP has lots of support from Democrats and more moderate Republicans, but might suffer because it doesn’t have the support of a hundred million dollars spent to lobby for it.

How should congress support SNAP despite big budget cuts? There are a lot of ways in which congress could configure SNAP funding to get a big pay-off in terms of helping families in need. SNAP is an instrumental service for many legal immigrants, so making sure that SNAP is easily accessible for immigrants who need it would be a good way to expand its reach. It would also be helpful for congress to consider how SNAP is implemented in neighborhoods where people have low access to nutritious foods. This could include providing more incentive to use SNAP to buy nutritious items or produce from farmers markets.

From my biased point of view, the idea of cutting SNAP funding in the middle of a recession still sounds pretty preposterous. Cutting SNAP so drastically just seems like pulling the rug out from beneath the millions of Americans who rely on SNAP to put food on the table. Hopefully someday lawmakers will see that SNAP (The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is important for maintaining the food security, and overall health, of millions of Americans.

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One thought on “SNAP: Still Fighting for the “Stamp” of Approval

  1. Sarah S. says:

    I think this question of the benefits of continuing to fund SNAP sufficiently is a difficult one and you did a great job articulating the more “touchy-feely” arguments. For those of us in public health and other areas of public service, the approach of tugging on heartstrings is definitely effective. But, the reality is that we also have to convince people who are worried about the bottom-line and those people who haven’t had to worry about food insecurity and want to protect their pocketbooks (it seems that many politicians and influential supporters would fall in this category). I don’t have many ideas about how to frame a supportive argument in terms of dollars and cents – my only idea would be to link food insecurity and lack of healthy food to decreases in productivity both now and in the future.
    From my international nutrition class, a 2007 series in The Lancet suggested that poor nutrition early in life leads to lower attainment in school and impaired cognitive development, which decreases a child’s ability to a productive member of society later on. Perhaps an argument could be made, although tenuously, that decreasing SNAP funding could have long-term negative affects for the US if citizens were not able to obtain adequate nourishment to become and/or remain productive members of the workforce.
    On an interesting side note, I find it frustrating that cuts to SNAP funding would mean a decrease in the number of children eligible for school food benefits. At this crucial time in school food, with more regulations that require significant financial investments (more than the 6 cents promised), a cut in eligible children would result in even lower reimbursements to schools, making it even harder to implement the new meal requirements.
    (And, because I can’t seem to post a picture in the comment box… here’s an illustration of my school-lunch ponderings: http://old.post-gazette.com/pg/images/201202/20120209obama_lunch454.png).

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