Congress should pass a farm bill that does not cut help to struggling families from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. For four decades, the food stamp program—now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP—has enjoyed strong bipartisan support and has been a bulwark for millions of Americans facing hunger. It provides targeted assistance to help very low-income people, and it responds rapidly in times of economic downturns or natural disasters.
It's a program that's been working well, yet both the Senate and House Agriculture Committee proposals for the farm bill would cut the program. The Senate plan slashes more than $4 billion over 10 years, achieved largely by reducing SNAP benefits for an estimated 500,000 households by $90 per month. The House Agriculture Committee would make these same cuts plus end benefits totally for a minimum of 1.8 million people, cutting the program by $16 billion.
Such proposals wholly ignore the reality of life for millions of people in this weak economy. The Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that more than 50.1 million Americans lived in households struggling against hunger in 2011, an increase of more than 1.3 million from the previous year. Nearly one in five Americans told the Gallup organization in 2012 that there were times over the past 12 months when they were unable to afford enough food for their households. The harmful congressional proposals also are at odds with public opinion. A recent poll released by the Food Research and Action Center found that three out of four voters thought that cutting SNAP was the wrong way to reduce spending. Seventy-nine percent of respondents support spending more (55 percent) federal money or about the same amount (24 percent) to address the problem of hunger. Only 17 percent say the federal government should be spending less. Support for SNAP and opposition to cuts are high among Democrats, Republicans, and independents.
And the proposed congressional cuts are at odds with every bipartisan deficit proposal discussed over the past year—Simpson-Bowles, Gang of Six, and others—as well as the Budget Control Act, which all protected SNAP from cuts.
Yes, Congress should pass a farm bill, but it has to pass one that does not harm the most vulnerable people in our society. It should pass a farm bill that leaves our nation's nutrition safety net stronger—not weaker.
About Jim Weill President of the Food Research and Action Center
Melissa Boteach Director of the Poverty and Prosperity Program for Center for American Progress
Roger Johnson President of the National Farmers Union
Leonard Boswell Democratic U.S. Representative from Iowa
Nan Swift Federal Government Affairs Manager at the National Taxpayers Union