Earlier this summer I joined advocates from throughout the Commonwealth to visit Virginia’s Senators and Representatives in Congress. We asked them to create a circle of protection around programs that help poor and hungry people, and we specifically asked them to protect funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that is part of the Farm Bill.
We did this because we know that SNAP is one of the most effective programs available to help our low-income neighbors by providing food assistance to those who need it most. During the recession there was a notable increase in the number of people living in poverty, but fortunately hunger did not keep pace. This was largely because SNAP benefits ensured that parents could put food on the table for their families. Additionally, economists have found that SNAP funds have a significant stimulus effect on local economies; according to Moody’s analytics every $1 spent on SNAP generates $171 in economic activity. Not only does SNAP provide direct assistance, but it is also a sound investment in our local economies.
But under pressure to find budgetary savings, the Agriculture Committees of both the Senate and House passed their versions of the Farm Bill with deep cuts to SNAP. The Senate acted first, cutting $4.5 billion over 10 years and the House passed $16.5 billion in cuts over the same period. Overall, the House version of the bill eliminated a total of $35 billion from the Farm Bill, with about half of the cuts coming from the SNAP program and the very benefits that help struggling families to put food on the table. Reducing our national deficit should be a priority for our elected officials, but cuts should not be made on the backs of the poor.
I was recently reminded that, “these are tough times and everyone must share the burden of budget cuts.” And to some, a $1.65 billion cut within the context of an overall SNAP budget of $78 billion may seem like spilled milk. But that equates to over one billion meals missed by American men, women and children over the course of just one year. Imagine what it will mean if churches, food pantries, and soup kitchens have to make up for those meals. Is that realistic for your faith community? I know it’s not for mine. It is imperative that we as a society collectively care for our hungry neighbors by finding, and funding, solutions that no single church or charity could manage alone.
Next, senators and representatives will form a conference committee to resolve the differences between the two versions of the Farm Bill. This committee has the ability to restore funding for SNAP as part of a final piece of legislation, a move we believe, as people of faith, is imperative if we are going to truly care for the most vulnerable in our communities.
It has been said before but it bears repeating, “the budget is a moral document.” How we spend our resources as a nation, speaks to our values. When it comes to caring for our hungry neighbors, we are falling far short of the values that most of us proclaim. We can do better.