Hunger Games

When the House of Representatives left Washington last week to enjoy a long summer break, they left behind a ticking time bomb: a proposed $20 billion budget cut to the nation’s food stamp program (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP), which would slash by 25% the food that poor families depend on for their very survival.

This is a particularly egregious case of legislative maneuvering with utter disregard for the harm that will come to the more than 5 million people who will lose their food benefits. Those who say that SNAP is rife with fraud, or that many beneficiaries are not truly in need of assistance, are playing politics, not statesmanship. According to Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief charity:

  • 76% of SNAP households include a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. These vulnerable households receive 83% of all SNAP benefits.
  • 83% of SNAP households have gross incomes at or below 100% of the federal poverty level ($19,530 for a family of three), and these households receive 91% of all SNAP benefits.
  • SNAP beneficiaries are already facing a cut to their benefits in November when an increase that went into effect as a part of the 2009 federal stimulus package expires.

While the cost of administering the food stamp program has risen in recent years, these increases are not without reason. During the 1990s and 2000s local governments made a huge push to decrease the stigma associated with food stamps as a form of welfare, and to make the enrollment process easier. In a recent article in the Austin Statesman, Kathy Green, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas writes, “It is only shocking that SNAP participation grew by 70% from 2006 to 2011 if you fail to mention that the ranks of the unemployed grew by 94% over the same period.” It is also important to note that while lawmakers decry the expense of the program, most recipients receive a very small stipend – on average $134 per month, or less than $1.50 per meal.

Here in New York, an estimated one-third of residents struggle to feed themselves and their families. More than 474,000 children in New York City—about one in four—face the daily reality of hunger. A recent study by the New York City Coalition Against Hunger found that one in ten elderly New Yorkers do not get enough to eat. And even with active SNAP participation, one in five children relies on a soup kitchen or food pantry for food. At NYLAG, our attorneys and financial counselors rely on SNAP as one tool in their arsenal to help low-income clients. When working with a victim of domestic violence, a cancer patient, or a disabled veteran, food stamps are an important safety net intervention that can help a vulnerable client meet his or her basic needs.

Hunger is the face of poverty, and its impact is profound. Poor nutrition has serious implications for children, whose future physical and mental health, academic achievement, and economic productivity all depend on eating well and regularly. A 2011 Senate Subcommittee report on Primary Health and Aging found that approximately 50% of all health conditions impacting older Americans are directly connected to a lack of nutrients. Whatever the age group, persistent hunger leads to poor health, chronic disease, and expensive medical interventions that we all pay for in the end.

The hunger crisis in our country is no game, and the lawmakers out to decimate SNAP are not just playing politics, they are playing with people’s lives.

Blog Post by Yisroel Schulman
President & Attorney-in-Charge

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