Helping Vulnerable Americans Put Dinner on the Table, the SNAP Program Needs Citizen Support

April 24, 2012 | Elizabeth Lower-Basch

UPDATE: The Senate Agriculture Committee passed the Farm Bill on April 26, and it will next go to the Senate floor. Amendments will be offered at that time that would make deep cuts to the SNAP program. Now is a critical time for Senators to hear from constituents about the importance of SNAP.

The Senate Agriculture Committee has released draft language for the 2012 Farm Bill, which it will begin "marking-up" in a hearing this Wednesday. This bill, typically passed every five years, sets national policy and funding direction for agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and forestry programs.

Compared to the budget legislation moved by the House Agriculture Committee, this is a far more reasonable and balanced bill, with budget savings achieved through cuts to both farm subsidies and nutrition programs. By contrast, the House committee bill would impose $36 billion in cuts on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the program formerly known as food stamps, while leaving farm subsidies untouched. These SNAP cuts would remove about 2 million low-income individuals from the program immediately, and cut already modest benefits to all remaining recipients.

However, the stark contrast with the House bill should not obscure the fact that the Senate committee bill would also impose real cuts on the SNAP program.  In particular, it would reduce states' ability to coordinate SNAP with the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), through so-called "Heat and Eat" policies. FRAC estimates that eliminating the "Heat and Eat" programs would reduce SNAP benefits by up to $4 billion over 10 years, and would particularly affect households with elderly and disabled family members, who would otherwise receive minimal SNAP benefits. The bill would also make recent cuts to federal funding for employment and training services for SNAP recipients permanent.

It is deeply worrisome that SNAP, which is proven effective in reducing poverty and improving health, is facing these threats while the economy is still recovering from the recession.  Unlike big agriculture, low-income individuals and families who receive SNAP benefits do not have deep pockets to hire lobbyists and donate to politicians. Historically, the agriculture sector has supported the SNAP program because they understand that it is good for business when consumers can afford to buy food. But in the current political and budgetary climate, farm subsidies and nutrition programs are pitted against each other. We know who will stand up to speak for the agriculture industry. That's why it's critical that citizens show urgently needed support for the SNAP program.  

See FRAC's legislative action page
for talking points and information on how you can lend your voice to this effort.  

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