Last month, more than 47 million Americans saw their monthly food stamp allotment reduced as part of automatic cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
In 14 states, 18 to 22 percent of the total population relies on food stamps, reported Pew Charitable Trusts. Now, a family of four will receive 21 fewer meals per month, increasing the burden on local food pantries (particularly during the holidays).
Since the recession, the food stamps program expanded and has been particularly important in feeding children. Households with children account for 70 percent of food stamp recipients — children alone make up 45 percent of all recipients.
In 2014, 3.8 million people would be denied food stamps and 210,000 kids would no longer get free lunches through public schools.
SNAP negotiations are currently under way in the House and Senate under the Farm Bill, which typically wins bipartisan support due to the appeal of farming and agriculture subsidies to a wide variety of constituents. But recent cuts are part of a long-term plan by the GOP to scale back programs like SNAP.
The GOP Reduction
The House GOP aims to cut $40 billion from SNAP over the next decade while enforcing more stringent eligibility requirements. Meanwhile, Democrats in the Senate call for $4 billion in cuts.
Despite GOP claims to the contrary, the SNAP program is not “wasteful” — as of 2013, it comprised just over 0.5 percent of the total gross domestic product. This percentage will fall over the next decade.
As importantly, the notion that food stamps are an “entitlement” program is simply a myth. In reality, 58 percent of all SNAP households were employed in any given month and 82 percent were employed within the last year, reported the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Additionally, SNAP benefits don’t typically afford any luxury spending. Prior to the latest cuts, 97 percent of all benefits were used by the end of the month.
The Looming Problem of Food Insecurity
Because 80 percent of all families of four have a gross income below the poverty line ($23,500), they have no additional income to fill in the gaps from these cuts, leading to a persistent food security crisis affecting the entire nation.
For instance, in Dallas, Texas, where 700,000 people rely on SNAP, the North Texas Food Bank had to ask for an additional 3 million pounds of food per month due to cuts.
In San Diego County, 160,000 children don’t have regular access to nutritious food, mirroring the rest of California, which suffers from some of the highest rates of childhood poverty.
A Movement Emerges
Despite the challenges facing access to high quality ingredients, local communities, including New York City, are making inroads in providing for individuals whose needs are not met through SNAP.
GrowNYC, which runs farmers markets in all New York City boroughs, allows food stamps to be used to purchase fresh ingredients. Their Health Bucks program provides a two dollar voucher to be spent on fresh fruits and vegetables per five EBT dollars used. (EBT, or electronic benefits transfer, is the method by which the state delivers cash and SNAP benefits to recipients).
City Harvest coordinates the rescue of food that would otherwise go to waste, distributing it for free to roughly 300 community organizations in the New York City area. Over the next few years, they plan to increase the amount of food collected to roughly 60 million pounds per year.
With Bill de Blasio to assume mayoral duties soon, Alternet reported on a wide network of organizations beginning talks with his administration.
These movements for food security also coincide with the labor rights movement to ensure those who prepare food are treated appropriately, particularly immigrant farmworkers more frequently subjected to workplace abuses.
Though the federal government is unlikely to decide the fate of SNAP for 2014 until after January 1, remember to take some time to find a local food bank or food justice organization to donate to this holiday season. With the November SNAP cuts, these extra donations will help feed a family of four.