How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

SNAP: Our Most Effective Anti-Hunger Program for Kids

The Times of Trenton Newapape
By Irwin Stoolmacher

Three factors have caused a dramatic increase in participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program): the sluggish economy, rising unemployment and a push in some states to get more people to enroll in it. Today, one in seven Americans (one in four children) receive benefits through SNAP, the nation’s largest and most important anti-hunger program.

As of December 2012, 47.8 million Americans — almost double the number from four years before — are relying on the government for the most basic necessity: food. Nearly 72 percent of SNAP participants are in families with children, more than one-quarter are in households with senior citizens or people with disabilities and many SNAP participants are working in low-paying jobs. A recent story in the Wall Street Journal reported that “The government spent a record $74.6 billion on SNAP benefits last year…. Roughly 45 percent of recipients are children. In 2007, the government spent $30.4 billion on the program.”

Those concerned about poverty in America see SNAP as a program that is working extremely well and making a huge difference in the lives of low-income individuals and families by mitigating somewhat the impact of the recession. Peter Edelman wrote in “So Rich, So Poor”: “SNAP is unquestionably a successful public policy. Its original expansion under a Republican president is a case study in effective advocacy. It provides a small underpinning of income to those who have no other income, and it is an important income supplement for struggling low-wage workers. It … has proven itself to be a powerful tool to cushion the devastating forces of our Great Recession.”

Unlike most means-tested benefit programs, which are restricted to particular categories of low-income individuals, SNAP is universally available if you meet two income and one asset requirement. States do have the flexibility to adjust these limits and some, such as New Jersey, have moved the gross monthly income eligibility requirement upward from 130 percent of the federal poverty threshold to 185 percent (from $2,069 per month to $2,944 per month for a three-person family) to address the high cost of living in New Jersey.

SNAP boasts one of the highest payment accuracy rates of any entitlement program in delivering the appropriate benefit levels for participants, with low administrative overhead. This is not to ignore stories that appear from time to time about SNAP participants selling their electronic benefit cards for cash to unscrupulous convenience store owners. Fortunately, these occurrences are rare and not the norm.

SNAP benefits are based on the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan (TFP), a market-basket of food updated annually by the USDA that represents the minimum amount a family should spend on groceries for a nutritionally adequate diet. The TFP is adjusted according to household size and income to determine the benefit. The average SNAP recipient received about $133 a month or about $1.50 per meal in FY 2012.

The most common reasons eligible people do not participate in SNAP is because they do not know about the program or they do not realize that they may be eligible to participate. For millions of Americans, SNAP is often the difference between having food on the table and going without meals. For some, it’s the only way they can purchase nutritious food. Yet, the program is jeopardy.

According to the above article in The Wall Street Journal, “Food stamps have proven polarizing in Washington, with … critics warning that the programs foster dependence on government support. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, the former GOP vice-presidential candidate, has proposed turning SNAP into a block-grant program that would give states more control over the program, likely leading to cuts…. Mr. Ryan said when it comes to anti-poverty programs policy makers should be asking the questions: ‘Do we have an economic policy of social mobility, of upward mobility? Are you attacking poverty at the root cause, or are we simply merely treating the symptoms of poverty to make it, you know, easier to tolerate and therefore perpetuate?’”

According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities changing the food stamp “program to a block grant would account for 125 billion in savings under Ryan’s budget, and those cuts would happened within 5 years, starting in 2019.” In addition, when the economy sours or an unforeseen event pushes more people into poverty, there would be no additional money coming to a state to address those needs. The “House budget resolution could cause nearly 9 million people to be cut from SNAP,” according to Share of Strength, a leading national hunger relief organization.”

The Ryan argument is an old saw. It is a perspective that views soup kitchens and emergency shelters as Band-Aids that actually retard the larger efforts of reducing poverty. My answer is simple: It is not a matter of either/or. Both efforts are needed. We cannot let people go hungry while we attempt to address the underlying factors that result in high levels of poverty.

The House is working on the Farm Bill, legislation that includes funding for SNAP. We must let our Congress members know that the nation’s most effective anti-hunger program for children must be protected.