Hunger affects one out of seven American men, woman, and children. Some 42.2 million Americans live in food-insecure households, including more than 13 million children. For this reason, America faces a potentially devastating domestic malnutrition disaster if the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp program) is converted to a block grant program and funding is slashed by $150 billion over 10 years.
Roughly 14 percent of Americans participate in SNAP (43.6 million individuals). For many of these folks, including many in the Rust Belt who have lost their manufacturing jobs, SNAP provides a vital lifeline that helps as they attempt to get back on their feet. Forty percent of the households receiving SNAP benefits have a least one working person and 69 percent of them have children. SNAP provides $526 a month to a family of three with no other income, or $6,328 annually. This is not an extravagant amount. That figure is about one-third of a poverty-level income.
A 20 percent cut in SNAP’s $72 billion annual appropriation would result in millions of low-income families no longer receiving food assistance that they are currently guaranteed. Under the House Budget Committee approved budget plan, states would be left to decide whose benefits to terminate. The states would be faced with draconian choices since benefits only average $1.41 per person per meal. Who do you take benefits away from, poor children, working parents, seniors, or people with disabilities?
For many years, various conservative House Republicans have waged a battle to stigmatize SNAP in order to cut benefits and make it more difficult for needy recipients to receive benefits.
False charges of waste, fraud, abuse
These representatives have contempt for those who need a helping hand and argue that SNAP is rife with waste, fraud, and abuse. That is simply false. Participation in the program is stringently monitored to ensure that benefits are only distributed to those who are eligible. Fraud in SNAP is less than two percent. The website Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger recently posted, “The truth is that the overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients follow the rules because they desperately need help ensuring their families have food to eat.”
If Republicans are able to pass the proposed enormous cuts to the SNAP, we will have a hunger crisis in America the likes of which we have not seen since the Great Depression. This will occur for a number of reasons:
First, many states will not take steps to fill the hunger void. As Paul Krugman recently wrote, “more than three-quarters of conservatives believe that the poor ‘have it easy’ thanks to government benefits; only 1 in 7 believe that the poor ‘have hard lives.’ And this attitude translates into policy. What we learn from the refusal of Republican-controlled states to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government would foot the bill, is that punishing the poor has become a goal in itself, one worth pursuing even if it hurts rather than helps state budgets.”
Second, the charitable sector is not capable of filling the void in spite of the fact the number of charities in America is growing at an astronomical rate from 518,000 in 1985 to more than 1 million today. Although more than 50,000 new nonprofits are being added each year, the nonprofit sector is not set up to feed every hungry person in each community throughout our nation.
The vast majority of food pantries and soup kitchens are small entities that only feed those who live in close proximity to their sites. As Mazon pointed out, “They are largely volunteer-run, often out of basements or closets at their local houses of worship, and they primarily distribute food that has been donated from within their communities. They simply could never have the capacity to feed the number of people who need help.” Charities like the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, with a main and multiple satellite sites, are not commonplace. This model does not exist in the vast majority of communities in our nation.
Third, the charitable sector does not raise the kind of money needed to solve systemic problems like persistent malnutrition. Nor can the nonprofit sector raise the enormous amounts of funds needed to provide quality health care to those who cannot afford or sustain a basic social and human care safety net for our nation’s permanently or temporarily vulnerable citizens.
Nonprofits can’t plug the holes
Last year was the best year in history for charitable giving in our country. Some $373.25 billion was raised by our nation’s charities. This amount pales in comparison to the total federal budget of $3.8 trillion.
Furthermore, the amount budgeted for just SNAP in 2015 equals about 20 percent of the total amount raised by all charities in the same year. Simply put, the nonprofit sector in the United States does not raise sufficient funds to plug major holes in our nation’s safety net.
The consequences of destroying our nation’s malnutrition food safety net would be devastating in terms of pain, suffering, thwarted child development and decreased productivity. In New Jersey, 850,000 residents receive about $1.2 billion annually from SNAP to help buy food. Reducing SNAP benefits would do nothing to “Make America Great Again.” Instead, it would only “Hurt Vulnerable Americans Again.”