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Op-Ed: Cutting Food Assistance Is No Pathway to Employment

Taking away food assistance is not the way to get people on the path to employment that can sustain them and their families

Adele LaTourette
Adele LaTourette

Here’s a little-known fact.

In New Jersey, most people who receive help through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) work. In fact, three-quarters of New Jersey households receiving this federal food aid, formally known as food stamps, had at least one member working over a 12-month period, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

But they work mostly at low-paying jobs, often with unpredictable hours and little or no benefits. This food assistance is essential to helping these residents put healthy food on the table for themselves and their families when times are tough.

That’s why proposals being considered in Congress around this year’s Farm Bill are so alarming. Some congressional Republicans are pushing for stricter, punitive work requirements in the bill, which sets funding and rules for both farm subsidies and SNAP. These proposals would only worsen the plight for many struggling at part-time jobs or trying to find work in areas with high unemployment.

We all want to help able-bodied adults land good-paying jobs. That’s a given. But taking away food assistance is not the way to get people on the path to employment that can sustain them and their families. It’s simply the wrong approach.

SNAP helps workers afford food when low incomes, unreliable hours, and lack of benefits make affording the basics a daily challenge. In New Jersey, the program helps more than 758,500 people, of which about one-quarter are children.

Not only that, but SNAP pumps $1.2 billion in federal funds into our communities — money that is spent directly in local food retail stores.

And the program is structured to incentivize work, fill gaps in earnings, and expand and contract as workers’ pay changes. Cutting these people from SNAP won’t raise their incomes or improve their career prospects, but it will make it that much harder for them to get by.

Instead of punishing people who can’t find a steady, good-paying job, we should focus on shoring up this critical safety net, while implementing meaningful job training and education programs that can achieve the shared goal of helping people find good jobs.

Currently, New Jersey’s approach to job training is a patchwork of programs — some effective, but others offering little more than busywork so people can fulfill New Jersey’s already strict work requirements of at least 30 hours per week.

If Congress really wants to help these Americans prosper, they should instead focus on policies that are proven to help reduce barriers to employment, create jobs, boost wages, and create more opportunities for Americans who aren’t earning enough to afford food, rent, clothes, and other necessities.

This includes offering meaningful job training and education to help workers land available high-paying jobs, increasing access to affordable childcare and transportation and improving the quality of life. These are far better solutions than punishing people who are already facing economic hardship.

As lawmakers consider the Farm Bill, they should recognize that SNAP is a critical piece of the puzzle to ensure that Americans in low-wage jobs can make ends meet. We urge our Congressional representatives to protect and strengthen SNAP and to push for policies and programming that will support workers in securing better-paying jobs that ensure all New Jersey residents have the means to buy healthy food every single day.

Adele LaTourette is the director of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition, a statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan organization fighting to end hunger in New Jersey.

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