Some in Congress may question the importance and value of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or what was known as food stamps), but here in Miami, we know that this is a program that is working for many in our city and across our state.
Yet the program is threatened — first, by the massive cut of $40 billion that passed by a narrow margin in the U.S. House of Representatives. Millions would lose benefits or be removed from the program altogether. And it is on top of another cut that began on Nov. 1.
Cutting SNAP hurts the most vulnerable among us. Nearly one in three households with children in the Miami metropolitan area said they couldn’t consistently afford food in surveys conducted continually between 2008 and 2012. It would harm seniors, forcing them to choose between paying for food or for medicine. And it even affects veterans: Approximately 900,000 struggling veterans and low-paid enlisted active-duty military families receive SNAP each month.
But hunger isn’t a problem that’s confined to urban areas. Rural America has hunger rates that are just as high, and SNAP is helping those families put food on the table as well. In fact, farmers have supported SNAP for decades. Benefits are spent quickly at stores, and then rebound through the economy by paying farmers, grocers and truck drivers. Approximately 16 cents of every grocery dollar spent goes back to farmers.
SNAP is good for our economy, and it is good for our health. Research shows that increasing SNAP benefits leads to less hunger and improved diet. It’s a no-brainer — give people more resources, and they’ll be able to afford healthier food. On the flip side, recent research from the Health Impact Project found that the potentially 5.1 million adults and children who could lose SNAP benefits would ultimately suffer more poverty and poorer health. That could translate into nearly $15 billion to manage diabetes alone — at taxpayers’ expense.
It’s been suggested that nonprofits and the faith community could close the hunger gap that would be created by SNAP cuts. As top-level religious leaders from across the South have pointed out, that doesn’t add up. Removing $40 billion from SNAP creates a hole so wide that food banks, pantries, churches and synagogues couldn’t even begin to fill it.
It is estimated that each religious congregation in the country would need to increase its food assistance by nearly $15,000 a year for the next 10 years — that’s almost $150,000 — to make up for the costs of current cuts.
Given all these facts, it is disappointing that SNAP cuts are even on the table, and that false charges of fraud and abuse persist. SNAP is efficient: It has an accuracy rate of more than 96 percent, an all-time high. It gets food on the table for hungry families. In fact, Florida has been recognized by the USDA for improvements and program excellence every year for the last six — named as one of the best states in the nation for accuracy in processing food assistance for those in need, saving taxpayers’ dollars while still quickly and correctly providing help to individuals, children and families.
SNAP is doing exactly what it should be doing — being there for struggling people when they need it the most. And it is time that we all recognize just how valuable this program is, and how we must ensure it can continue to help put food on the table.
Joe Garcia represents Florida’s 26th District in Congress. Charles Auslander is president/CEO of The Children’s Trust.