Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 30, 2013

Forum: Fighting childhood hunger, poverty


Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — By Diane Emling

Here’s a recipe for a successful program: help almost one in three children eat a well-balanced diet; keep more than 2 million children out of poverty; and help them stay healthy and learn better in school.

SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) achieves all that. And it does it at an average of less than $1.50 per person, per meal.

Programs with SNAP’s track record should be protected. But it faces serious threats in Congress, where House Republican leaders want to cut it by $40 billion over 10 years. The cuts would eliminate food assistance for at least 4 million to 6 million low-income people, many of them working families with children.

SNAP (known in Michigan as the Food Assistance Program) helps an estimated 22 million children, including 730,000 in Michigan, and nearly 17,000 in northwest Lower Michigan, eat nutritionally sound meals. In 2011, SNAP kept about 2.1 million children out of poverty and lifted 1.5 million children nationwide out of deep poverty, more than any other benefit program.

These benefits protect at-risk kids. SNAP improves babies’ health, reduces the risk of developmental delays, and provides a powerful weapon against decreased achievement in reading and math and the greater likelihood of behavioral and psychological conditions among children who don’t get enough to eat.

Many of those kids come from working families. Most SNAP recipients who can work do work. But one provision of the SNAP-cut proposal would slice 2 million people from the program, including many parents and children in low-income working families who, because of high child-care and housing expenses, have a hard time affording food.

The cuts would hit jobless families, for whom SNAP has provided a critical support during the deep recession and lackluster recovery. The proposal would end basic food assistance for millions of adults — and, in some cases, their children -—who want to work but can’t find a job or a job training or work-for-your-benefit program.

These deep cuts would worsen the struggles families receiving SNAP will experience beginning Nov. 1, when a modest boost in benefits provided to help during the recession will expire, leading to an across-the-board reduction in SNAP benefits. For example, benefits for a family of four will fall by nearly $400 over 10 months. In northwest Michigan, that will mean an estimated loss of $4.6 million a year.

SNAP grew in recent years, just as it’s meant to do during recessions. Congress’ own budget analysts have confirmed the long economic downturn caused that growth - and that spending on the program will fall as the economy continues to recover.

Ending food aid for millions of Americans — including hundreds of thousands throughout Michigan — won’t fix our budget problems but will undercut one of our best weapons against childhood hunger and poverty and jeopardize children’s well-being .

That’s not a recipe for success.

About the author: Diane Emling, Ph.D., of Traverse City, is a social science instructor at Northwestern Michigan College. She is a member of the board of directors of the Michigan League for Public Policy.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by e-mailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.