The US Congress is debating the new farm bill this week, and this means talking about SNAP. The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (the old food stamps) is one of the foundations of our safety net, and the biggest line item on the farm bill.
The SNAP program is facing significant cuts. The bill on the House of Representatives cuts $20 billion out of the program; the one in the Senate $4 billion. To show the impact of these cuts Senator Chris Murphy has decided to highlight the hardships that SNAP recipients face every day, taking on the SNAP challenge.
What is the SNAP challenge? For this past week the Senator has spent for food only $4,80 a day, the average benefit amount for SNAP recipients in the state of Connecticut. He has been tracking his experience on his Facebook page and Twitter accounts, and his accounts are quite interesting. He shared what he learned these days at a round table in the Connecticut Food Bank on East Haven. Some of his comments today: he really is hungry all the time, has lost six pounds in a week and has relied on ramen and bananas for most of his meals. On today´s meeting he stressed on how buying any kind of healthy food for $4,80 is pretty much impossible.
The main take away, however, goes beyond the SNAP challenge - it is the fact that the SNAP program is crucial for many, many families, it is probably underfunded as it is, and even so Congress will probably reduce the benefit if no one gets on the way. It is time to call our legislators again, and tell them that many, many people in the state and across the country can not even make ends meet with the SNAP program as it is. We can not cut it more.
As the House begins drafting a multi-year farm bill, it is worth taking a moment to dispel the myths that make the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly food stamps, an easy target for cuts. Who are these people, you ask? Are they the same people my neighbor swears drive luxury cars to the grocery store on their way back from getting their nails done? Are they able-bodied adults who would rather live off the system than work? Not quite, though this paints a convenient picture for those who want to make cuts to the program and not lose sleep over it.
Of the just over 10% of CT residents who receive SNAP benefits, only slightly more than 6% of them were able-bodied adults living in non-elderly, non-disabled, childless households. I don’t have the exact number of that sub-set who own a BMW or have had a recent manicure, but I can tell you they are not the ones you need to worry about. Let us instead focus our efforts on worrying about those who want to feed their families and can’t, no matter how hard they try.
My morning route from home in suburbia to work brings me past a local food pantry and reminds me every Thursday, when they open and people spill out their doors with grocery bags of food they hope will last them the week, why the work I’m driving to is important. We should all remind ourselves, and more often than just Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m., that as someone on Capitol hill draws a red line through these benefits, people are struggling to make do with what is already too little.
Last Thursday, as I was stopped at the stop sign by that food pantry, I saw two women looking through the bags of food they had come away with, and one handed the other a box of pasta from her bag. I could not read her lips, but imagine she was giving up something she needed to someone who may have needed it even more. If Members of Congress could find some way to give up the things they want for the things the country needs, maybe we would all be better off.
Stay tuned to see if this version will bring us back to last year, when leaders drafted a five-year plan for the super-committee that wasn’t, with $23 billion in spending cuts, or if the case can be made to cut from elsewhere and continue providing this necessary benefit to those who need it most.
I am having déjà vu, thinking back to last summer, when SNAP (food stamps) was put on the table to pay for emergency funds to states for healthcare and education (FMAP). At the time, we were appalled by the proposed offset, but also knew that once it was on the table, it was up for grabs. If we didn’t at least use it for something else we cared about, who knew what it would end up paying for.
The newest offset to make us feel ill is the House Republican proposal to eliminate eligibility for immigrant families claiming the Child Tax Credit (CTC and ACTC). This is being proposed as a way to offset the cost of extending the payroll tax and unemployment insurance (UI).
While it is politically easier to propose an offset that would impact a population which already carries negative associations and stereotypes, someone needs to set the record straight. Of the 5.5 million children of immigrants living with at least one undocumented parent, 4.5 million are U.S. citizens
and more than half live in low-income families (First Focus). There goes the rumor that the majority of these families are undocumented, and assumed to be abusing the system in some way.
In fact, children of immigrants now comprise roughly one quarter of the nation’s child population, and are more likely to live in poverty than are children of native-born parents (First Focus). Anyone who has children can tell you how expensive they are. Worth every penny of course, but when a baby born in 2009 will cost a middle class family $286,050 by the time the child reaches 18 years of age (USDA), low-income families need our support.
The very credits that are now on the chopping block are the only credits which explicitly address the high cost of raising children, which translates to a higher percentage for low-income families. While families at all income level spend the highest percentage of their income directly on their children, lower-income families spend 25% of their before-tax income on a child; middle-income families spend 16%; and upper-income families spend 12% (USDA).
Studies reveal that an increase of as little as $1000 in family income has been shown to improve children’s test scores by 2% in math and more than 3.5% in reading. When families receive the refundable credit, that raises their effective income (or income that can now be spent on anything, like gas to get them to work, that previously went to pay for the diapers or other high costs incurred when raising a child).
While we need to extend the payroll tax and UI benefits, this is not the way to pay for it. House members need to know how using this offset would hurt families at home, and that no child should have to suffer for someone else to benefit. Congress could learn a lot from watching how well Peter and Paul can play together in the sandbox.