Imagine if you were constantly stretching your family’s food budget to its limit.
Then it was slashed overnight.
For tens of millions of Americans, that’s the reality they faced on November 1, as their SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) dropped after the expiration of the Recovery Act boost. An average family of four is losing $36 in benefits every month, or $432 every year.
For these families, losing $36 doesn’t mean small sacrifices, like skipping fancy coffees or cooking at home. It means a devastating hit to their already-fragile budgets. It means more parents skipping dinner so their children don’t have to go to bed hungry, more seniors choosing between food and medicine, and more students fighting to ignore their rumbling stomachs.
Already, SNAP benefits barely last through the third week of the month, which is why so many families who receive SNAP turn to food banks like ours to get by. Now, they’ll be coming sooner, and more often. In Alameda County alone, the cuts will result in SNAP recipients losing 5.4 million meals in the first year. To make up the deficit, our food bank would have to increase our distribution by 25 percent — a feat that is unattainable without significant changes.
These cuts to SNAP are just the beginning. On October 30, Congress began debating whether to slash $40 billion from the program, which would immediately cut off 4-6 million of the nation’s most destitute. Meanwhile, low-income housing, education programs and other food assistance programs face significant cuts due to the sequester.
Food banks cannot shoulder the ever-growing burden alone. As it is, we’re barely keeping up with demand, which began skyrocketing during the recession and hasn’t let up. We may hear about a rising economic tide, but our clients — including low-wage workers and their children, seniors, and people on disability — are being left far behind. For them, the only sign of economic growth is the rising cost of living.
SNAP does more than help our neighbors in need: It’s an economic driver, bringing federal dollars straight to communities. Because every $5 in SNAP benefits generates $9 of economic activity, the program plays a crucial role in rebuilding the economy for all Americans.
As our feeble social safety net continues to shred, it’s time to take action. Urge your representatives to protect and rebuild the social safety net, to reduce poverty and create a just and inclusive society in which everyone can thrive.
Suzan W. Bateson is the Executive Director of Alameda County Community Food Bank, where she was the first Food Bank leader in the nation to ban the distribution of carbonated beverages, promising to replace the million-pound loss in distribution with farm-fresh produce. She serves on the board of directors of the California Association of Food Banks, and on the advisory committees for Feeding America, Food Day, and Junior League of Oakland-East Bay.