According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called FoodStamps), provides over 47 million low income people with the means to purchase food each month. Nearly three quarters of households served include children, and roughly one quarter are the elderly or people with disabilities. To qualify for SNAP, you must be at or below 130% of the poverty line and have less than $2000 in assets. For a family of three in 2014 that is the equivalent of $25,400 in gross income.
SNAP funding in 2013 accounted for $82.5 billion, or approximately 2.4% of the federal budget. Despite being such a small portion of the federal budget, it has been the target of increasing attack by conservative members of the House and Senate in each round of budgetary deals. As a result, SNAP funding was cut in November of 2013, dropping benefits to an average of $1.40 per meal per participant.
A report issued in January of 2013 by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council highlighted the inadequacies of the benefit allotment before the cut, finding that they were based on, “unrealistic assumptions about the cost of food, time preparation, and access to grocery stores”. In 2013, several congressmen took the SNAP Challenge in an attempt to showcase these shortcomings. They limited themselves to $3 per day in food expenditures and reported being hungry, tired, and unfocused. Given that more than half of SNAP recipients are children, by cutting SNAP we are actively disinvesting in the future well being of the nation. If a child cannot focus in school due to hunger, her chances of becoming a successful and engaged member of society are reduced greatly.
Beyond this, take into account the economic stimulus effect of SNAP dollars in our economy. SNAP money goes directly back into the marketplace. Nearly 80% of all SNAP benefits are spent within the first two weeks of disbursement. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that every $5 spent on SNAP generates $9 in economic activity. This stimulating effect reaches not just your grocery store, but farmers, processors, distributors, and beyond. The Department of Agriculture estimates that each $1 billion in retail food demand is the equivalent of 3,300 farm jobs. In an industry that is seeing the family farm become a distant memory, every job is a precious commodity.
We need to see SNAP for what it really is, rather than a line in the budget open for reduction. Yes SNAP is the lifeline for families struggling to make ends meet. But SNAP is also a much-needed link in the chain that will bring our economy out of recession and into recovery. If people aren’t spending money, jobs cannot be created and you cannot spend what you do not have.
Reprinted with permission of: The Policy Forum at Mills College