The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which many know as food stamps, is a program funded by the federal government and administered by the Department of Agriculture.
SNAP is designed to give people assistance in purchasing food when their income falls beneath a certain level.
Benefits are distributed through an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card that has restrictions on items it can be used to purchase. For instance, beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco are strictly prohibited, as well as any nonfood items or prepared hot foods.
During the recent recession, the number of people receiving SNAP benefits increased from about 26 million to 47 million.
Currently, the program serves around one in seven Americans.
As part of the stimulus bill in 2009, Congress approved an increase of 13.6 percent per month in SNAP benefits for all recipients.
This increase was intended to be temporary and, as of Nov. 1, it came to an end resulting in SNAP benefits decreasing by 5.4 percent (the portion of the 13.6 percent increase that was not absorbed by annual cost of living increases).
This means a family of four saw monthly benefits drop from $668 to $632, or a decrease of $36.
SNAP benefits are authorized in the Farm Bill, an omnibus legislation also covering crop subsidies, agriculture research, conservation, farm loans and other programs.
The Farm Bill is renewed about every five years.
Currently, Congress is negotiating a new Farm Bill. Both the House and the Senate want to cut SNAP benefits, but differ greatly on the amount of reductions.
The Catholic Church advises against benefit cuts until the economy is recovered and fair, family-wage jobs are available.
Last month, the bishops wrote: “The Catholic bishops of the United States stand ready to work with leaders of both parties for a budget that reduces future unsustainable deficits, protects poor and vulnerable people, advances the common good, and promotes human life and dignity.”
SNAP benefits account for two percent of the budget. A reduction would not only hurt those participating, but also businesses that participate indirectly — grocers, truck drivers and particularly farmers.
It’s estimated that approximately 16 cents of every grocery dollar spent goes back to farmers, and many states allow EBT cards to be used at farmers’ markets.
SNAP also benefits the nation. Economists at the Department of Agriculture estimate that for every $1 spent on SNAP benefits, there is an economic return of $1.73 to $1.79 because allowing the poor to get adequate nutrition means better health, fewer health care costs, and better educational outcomes.
Why is SNAP part of the Farm Bill?
In addition to national and international food aid, the Farm Bill sets policy for agricultural issues such as farm subsidies, crop insurance, environmental conservation programs and rural development projects.
Food assistance was added to the Farm Bill decades ago to get urban representatives interested in rural concerns.
SNAP is the biggest part of the Farm Bill — about $80 billion a year — and is a huge negotiating point in the passage of a new bill this year.
Though they agree the program must be cut to help reduce the U.S. deficit, lawmakers can’t agree on how much to cut from SNAP.
The Senate passed a version that cut an average of $400 million a year from the program; $4 billion over a decade. The House approved a version that cut an average of $4 billion a year; $40 billion over a decade.
A final Farm Bill must be approved before the end of the year.
Besides the cut to benefits, other issues involved in negotiations are categorical eligibility for SNAP based on participation in other low-income assistance programs; how minimal payments from the low-income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) should affect SNAP benefits; and work requirements for able-bodied adults.
The House and Senate bills agree on the LIHEAP issue, but only the House bill restricts categorical eligibility and affects work requirements for able-bodied adults.
How does the farm bill impact Kansas?
Hunger is as prevalent in rural America as in urban America. And during this tough economic time, SNAP benefits are boosting rural and urban economies alike. Here are some recent statistics for Kansas:
• SNAP recipients – 317,000 (projected for 2014)
• Percent of population – 11
• Number of households – about 98,344
• Households with a person 60 or older – 20%
• Households with children under 18 – 55%
• Households reporting ethnicity as white – 65%
• Households with one or more people in the workforce – 83%
How can I help?
Catholic Charities food pantries, now gearing up to deliver 2,000 Thanksgiving meals, are finding it difficult to keep up with the need created by the recent reduction in SNAP benefits.
“We need food across the metro as well as across the 21 counties,” said Kim Brabits, director of program operations. “But particularly in Topeka, [the] Leavenworth area and Wyandotte County.
“We also purchase quite a bit of food from Harvesters Food Bank, so monetary donations are great, as well as food donations.”
Lee Weigel, who manages the Overland Park pantry, said items all the pantries are usually in need of are:
• Cooking oil
• Laundry detergent
• Dish soap
For more information about your local food pantry, visit the website at: catholic charitiesks.org/emergencyassistance.