Cutting food stamps is callous, cruel

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By Sue Berkowitz
Special Guest Op-Ed for Statehouse Report

SEPT. 27, 2013 — S.C. Appleseed issued information last week provided by Food Research Action Center detailing how one in four children and one in five adults in South Carolina are struggling with hunger. 

Last week’s vote by the U.S. House to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by $40 billion is simply callously ignoring the reality of constituents’ lives. The six members of the South Carolina delegation who voted for this bill have voted to increase hunger in their districts and around the country. Estimates from the Congressional Budget Office found that this bill would end benefits for approximately 3.8 million low-income people in 2014. The cuts would impact the most vulnerable by denying food assistance to children, seniors, veterans, active-duty military and working parents earning low wages.

The SNAP program is the single greatest defense we have to hunger in our state and in the nation. Although it has not kept up with inflation, it does provide a needed service by covering food costs for a portion of a household’s month. Nationally, this bill will reduce an important hand up for so many of our working poor who depend on this benefit to help make their low wages stretch. This decrease in SNAP will follow the decline in wages so many in our state have seen over the past years. This one cruel gesture is telling our working poor families we don’t care if you are doing everything you can to make ends meet; you will still not be able to feed your children.

This is not the only reduction beneficiaries are seeing. SNAP benefits are already facing an across-the-board cut beginning in November due to the end of the temporary boost provided through the Recovery Act. For families of three, the cut will be $29 a month reducing their modest benefits to less than $1.40 per person per meal.

“Food Hardship 2008-2012: Geography and Household Structure,” released by the Food Research and Action Center, found that in surveys from 2008 to2012, more than 26 percent of households with children in South Carolina said there were times in the prior year when they did not have enough money to buy food that they needed for themselves or their family. Slightly less than 20 percent of households without children in South Carolina said they faced the same struggle.

With almost 20 percent of our state living at or below poverty, the actions of U.S. House of Representatives can be called nothing less than cruel. The once bipartisan nature of preventing our seniors and children from going hungry has left our nation’s capital.  Celebrating votes that take away food, healthcare, education and housing is not going to help families.

The SNAP program not only helps to feed the hungry, but it helps to infuse more than $1 billion into our state’s economy each year. This money goes to our local communities, allowing merchants to hire clerks into their stores who then use their wages to spend for rent, clothing, utilities and entertainment. Harvard economist Martin Feldstein found that for every dollar spent on that program, $1.73 is generated throughout economy. In fact, his study found that the fastest way to infuse the economy was through expanding the SNAP program. The vote in Congress was not just a cruel gesture towards the hungry, but also one more way to hurt our state that is struggling to recover.

This fight against hunger is not over. The U.S. Senate will now negotiate with the House to help restore funds to this vital program.   We cannot continue to tolerate that one quarter of our children go to bed hungry each year. We must not let Congress destroy the SNAP program.

This Op-Ed appeared on September 27, 2013 in the latest issue of the Statehouse Report. Sue Berkowitz is Executive Director of South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, a statewide nonprofit that fights for low-income South Carolinians to overcome social, economic and legal injustice.