Guest Editorial in the October 5 Carlisle Sentinel by Jane Clements Smith, Executive Director of Feeding Pennsylvania and Alex Baloga, President & CEO of the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association.
Pennsylvania is a worldwide leader in agriculture and food production, boasting more than 57,000 farms and $7.4 billion in agricultural products sold, and yet one in seven Pennsylvanians are food insecure.
The work of feeding Pennsylvanians in need is a public-private partnership. Agricultural producers, grocers and businesses, food banks and other charitable organizations, governments, volunteers, and many others play a role in making sure all Pennsylvanians have the nutrition they need for a healthy life. Yet one public program is the MVP of nutrition assistance — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps).
SNAP serves 42 million people in the United States, including 1.86 million Pennsylvanians —seniors, families with children, people working in low-wage jobs, veterans and people with disabilities — all of whom rely on SNAP to put food on the table. The program became permanent 40 years ago with bipartisan support in an effort “To strengthen the agricultural economy; to help to achieve a fuller and more effective use of food abundances; to provide for improved levels of nutrition among low-income households through a cooperative Federal-State program of food assistance to be operated through normal channels of trade; and for other purposes.”
Families that qualify for SNAP are issued an electronic benefits transfer card that can be used to purchase food items at participating retailers and farmers markets. The benefits are insufficient, amounting to less than $1.40 per person per meal on average, but critical to supplement the tight budgets of low-income individuals and families. Last year, SNAP provided more than 926 million meals to qualifying families in Pennsylvania. In comparison, Feeding Pennsylvania’s network of food banks provided 115 million meals throughout the state.
In July, the U.S. House Budget Committee passed a resolution which proposes $203 billion in budget cuts, including $10 billion in cuts to SNAP over 10 years. The Committee also recommends an additional $150 billion in cuts to SNAP over 10 years through changing the structure of the program in a way that would make fewer people eligible for the program; cap the amount of money available for qualifying households, and ask states — many of which are already cash-strapped — to pay for more of the costs of the program.
Budgets are moral documents that express our values. The American people have always helped their neighbors in times of need. Cutting billions of dollars from an evidence-based nutrition program which provides eight times the number of meals of the entire food bank network in Pennsylvania is a bad idea. If enacted, not only would these cuts and changes to the program take millions of meals away from our neighbors in need, there would also be negative financial consequences for our Commonwealth. SNAP pumped $2.7 billion into Pennsylvania’s economy in 2016. Every dollar cut from the program is taken out of local communities where those benefits are spent at grocery stores and farmers’ markets.
Pennsylvania’s food merchants are proud of their ability to provide safe, healthy and economical food to the communities in which they serve and live, but their impact goes far beyond providing food. Food Merchants also serve as economic drivers within the community by creating jobs and paying taxes. SNAP spending accounts for more than 10 percent of all spending on food purchased to be eaten at home. Any cuts to the program will have far-reaching effects beyond food vendors — from growers to processors to distributors — as consumers will be forced to cut back on their food purchases.
Cuts to SNAP would also put serious strain on the charitable food assistance network to fill the gap, and the reality is that food banks don’t have the capacity to meet the need in Pennsylvania without SNAP. As the name of the program suggests, SNAP serves as a supplement for household income so families can stretch their budgets to cover other necessities such as housing, medication, and transportation costs.
Feeding Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association are both in the business of providing food to Pennsylvanians. Together, we oppose any efforts which decrease access to nutritious food, especially for our most vulnerable neighbors.
Food is as basic as it gets. We must not abandon our public-private partnership to lift up Americans and to make sure that everyone has the nutritious food they need to live a healthy, productive life. Please contact your U.S. Representative and U.S. Senators and urge them to vote “no” to any budget resolution or bill which harms SNAP.