Time and again, we have seen that when household budgets are stretched, food is one of the first things to go. The resulting lack of reliable nutrition puts families at risk of poorer health, kids at risk of lower academic achievement, and seniors at risk of depression and a raft of other negative outcomes.
It is for this reason that we are deeply concerned by the proposed revisions to SNAP (formerly called food stamps) eligibility requirements put forth yesterday, which current projections indicate would take away food assistance from 3.1 million people nationally. Based on USDA estimates that 9% of families receiving benefits would be impacted, just over 12,000 households here in our region could lose eligibility. Put in context, the average monthly SNAP benefit per household in our service area is $243.03, and the average cost of a meal in our region is $3.56. That means that an average household losing benefits would now have to come up with the funds for 68 additional meals over the course of each month. The result would be extraordinarily difficult trade-offs between food and rent, childcare, medicine, electricity, and other critical expenses.
The proposed changes would create these negative impacts by curbing the ability of individual states to raise SNAP income eligibility limits (i.e. to allow qualification at a slightly higher income level) to account for the sizeable shares of earnings that go to expenses like childcare or housing in low-income working households in many regions. In our area especially, meeting these costs while keeping food on the table is a near-impossibility for many working low-income families. Children in families that lose access to food stamps will be hit doubly hard; if the SNAP benefits their parents rely on to put dinner on the table are cut off, they will also lose eligibility for free school breakfast and lunch.
For families treading just above water, the proposed changes to SNAP could plunge them back under the surface. Families near the top of federal income threshold are at risk of losing benefits if they receive just slightly more income through more work hours or a small wage increase, or put away modest amounts of savings. As we saw first-hand in our region during last January’s government shutdown, even those with steady jobs and benefits can be plunged quickly into hardship if a shock to their finances occurs and they have no monetary cushion to absorb the blow. For families trying to work their way out of food insecurity and off of reliance on SNAP, these changes would actively penalize rather than support the precise activities – earning more and creating a financial safety net – that would eventually make that possible.
As an organization, we are focused both on providing food for today and also, more than ever, on helping those in our community to build brighter, more sustainable futures. These destabilizing changes being considered would work directly against that goal. Our community needs and deserves better.