WASHINGTON, January 8, 2016 – As the nation recovers from the recession, it is time to take the necessary steps toward ending hunger and poverty in America. As the nation’s leading anti-hunger organizations, we have seen what works – and what doesn’t.
For more than four decades, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), for instance, has been and continues to be a great example of how government at its best can work well for people. Senator Bob Dole, among others, described the Food Stamp Program as the most important social program advance since the creation of Social Security and SNAP still proves to be far more effective than any other program in lifting Americans out of deep poverty. In 2015 alone, 4.6 million Americans were lifted out of poverty.
In addition to helping people, SNAP helps the economy. Since SNAP benefits are so urgently needed by families, they are spent quickly. Ninety-seven percent of benefits are redeemed by the end of the month of issuance—thereby bolstering local economies.
When the national economy or a regional, state or local economy is in trouble, the program is among the most effective government responses. It reacts quickly and robustly to economic problems. This has been seen most clearly and dramatically since the start of the recession in 2007, as millions of people became newly unemployed or underemployed. The program responded quickly to provide people and communities desperately needed help in the downturn.
SNAP is also there when natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes and floods strike. In a 2005 report from President Bush’s White House on government action in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, the Disaster SNAP program was singled out for its responsiveness and effectiveness.
SNAP needs to be strengthened, not weakened. Proposals to harm SNAP through block grants would eviscerate the social safety net and would lead to increased hunger and worsened poverty. Block grants are a set amount of funding that is allocated by the federal government to state and local governments. Once distributed, the federal government has little oversight over how the funds are spent. This lack of oversight is just one reason why proposals to convert safety net programs – like SNAP – into block grants are bad ones. A set amount of funding means that states would be faced with impossible choices as need increased: Do they cut benefits, or do they place children and seniors on waiting lists for food assistance? Overall, block granting assistance programs means that struggling people are left without the vital assistance they need.
Proposals to end hunger must note SNAP’s achievements and discuss ways to bolster this valuable program so millions more Americans can be kept out or lifted out of poverty.
Statement attributable to James D. Weill, president, Food Research & Action Center.