Photo by: Clementine Gallot
By Anthony Giancatarino, Coordinator of Research and Advocacy
Meet Evannie. She works hard as a waitress but barely earns a living and struggles to put food on the table for herself and her seven year old daughter, Lily. Balancing the costs of healthcare and childcare with food, Evannie often skips meals to ensure that Lily can eat. Without the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) — aka food stamps — both Evannie and Lily would starve. Period.
Over 47 million Americans rely on SNAP to get by. SNAP helps people like Evannie make ends meet and keeps families from the brink of the most desperate levels of poverty. At the same time, SNAP actually fuels local and regional economies.
So why would the House of Representatives take food out of hungry children’s mouths and feed corporate agriculture instead? It is not just morally wrong, it is bad economic policy.
The House recently passed the Nutritional Reform and Work Opportunity Act and is considering the passage of the Healthy Food Choices Act. The Nutritional Reform and Work Opportunity Act cuts $40 billion from SNAP while the Healthy Food Choices bill would further restrict SNAP usage. Both punish low-income Americans like Evannie and Lily by making devastating cuts to food assistance. At the same time, both leave in place nearly $5 billion in subsidies to industrial corn, soy and sugar growers — core ingredients in the cheap, unhealthy food that is making our communities sick and obese.
But while subsidizing factory farms hurts all of us, SNAP helps everyone. White Americans are the largest group of Americans utilizing the vital assistance. And people of color, who are more likely to have low-paying jobs, are disproportionately in need of help to buy food — one in four Black Americans and one in six Latinos rely on SNAP, compared to 1 in 12 Whites. Three in every four SNAP recipients are children, elderly, or people with disabilities.
At a time when unemployment is at 6.4% — and, even worse, 13% unemployed for Blacks and 9.6% for Latinos — the House should be helping the growing ranks of the poor, not punishing them. Think that’s bad enough? Here are some other bad apples in the House plan to slash food assistance:
- Current federal legislation dictates that unemployed adults, with no children, can only receive SNAP benefits for three months out of every three years. Since everyone can’t find work, especially that quickly, states can currently extend that period, so that people suffering from unemployment can still eat. The Nutritional Reform and Work Opportunity Act takes away this critical lifeline.
- Right now, parents who collect modest savings for their child’s education or own modest assets such as a car can still receive SNAP to feed their families. The House wants to change this rule. This will penalize another two million Americans, many of whom are balancing the struggles of living in poverty and investing in their children’s future. Such eliminations have been shown to disproportionately impact people of color and the elderly who save their modest incomes for health emergencies.
- The Healthy Food Choices Act requires that all SNAP dollars be used for healthy foods, as defined by the Women Infant and Children Program (WIC). That’s a good thing; the Center for Social Inclusion also advocates the expansion of the double bucks programs in the Farm Bill to help do just that. But if legislation doesn’t address critical racialized gaps in how we grow and distribute healthy food, including the prevalence of food deserts in low-income communities, this part of the law will have a punitive effect. Latino, Native American and Black communities are 2 to 4 times more likely than Whites to lack access to healthy foods.
Fortunately, the Senate has an opportunity to stand up for what’s right — economically, and morally — by defending SNAP. In the short term, we must continue demanding that our lawmakers maintain full-funding for food assistance.
And longer term, we must continue to solve the challenges of unemployment, hunger and access to healthy foods that plague all our communities — supporting solutions like urban farms in Detroit, new distribution models in Philadelphia and youth gardens in North Carolina. And we must support a healthy food policy that puts an end to subsidies for unhealthy food. SNAP can only be successful if it helps people afford healthy, accessible food to feed their families. So long as the minimum wage remains at $7.25 and the Farm Bill subsidizes cheap unhealthy food, Evannie and Lily have no shot of rising out of poverty, no matter how hard they work.