Policy Change at Work: SNAP
“Without food stamps, I’d starve. I’d wind up going into a coma and dying. That’s the cold fact.”
And that’s Kay Boyd’s blunt assessment of the effect of proposed cuts to the assistance effort formally known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Kay is 62 and lives with asthma, diabetes and a plague of other ailments that began in her youth. She barely gets by on Supplemental Security Income and $144 a month in food stamps. Because of a recent operation to fuse weakened bones, she can no longer ride city buses to take advantage of grocery store specials in other neighborhoods. By the end of the month, she is generally visiting a local church pantry for food.
“You can’t be healthy if you can’t eat,” Kay says. “It doesn’t make sense to cut a program that helps people stay healthy.”
SNAP provides monthly food benefits to struggling individuals and families. Nearly 75 percent of SNAP participants are low-income families with children and more than one-quarter are in households with seniors or people with disabilities. Overall, 93 percent of SNAP benefits go to households with incomes below the federal poverty line.
In addition to providing a most basic need, SNAP is a powerful tool in fighting poverty. An independent study found that SNAP kept some four million people out of poverty in 2010 and was more effective than any other benefit program. It also stimulates local economies by promoting spending, boosting growth and creating jobs.
“Everyone in this country should be able to eat,” says Lynn Williams, lead organizer with the Contact Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. “We have to convince our legislators to be humane. We are our brother’s keepers and we are part of a community of people, with a responsibility to care for others.”
“The food stamp program is very important to all the people below the poverty line, who are in poor health and can’t find work. We don’t have a choice,” Carolyn Pettis says. “I’m terminally ill and I have a chronic lung disease. With $47 in food stamps, I can’t afford the special diet that’s prescribed and sometimes I go without food. It’s unethical and unfair that people have to go through this.”
Angela Whitehead is raising her six-year-old granddaughter. She lost her job and is volunteering at the Contact Center. Food stamps help her feed her granddaughter, but they don’t go very far. “We go to three stores to shop the sales and lunch is frequently ramen noodles,” she explains. “If we don’t really need it, we don’t buy it.”
Contemplating cuts to SNAP, Kay says, “Some people are in dreamland. They think this issue is going to go away. People need to be aware of how serious this situation is. It would be a tragedy if small children had to go without food. More people need to get behind this program and push it.”
Advocating to maintain life-saving programs like SNAP in the Farm Bill is one way you can make a difference. Check out the Poverty USA Action Center to see current action alerts and take action now, or see a sample letter to public officials highlighting the need to protect life-saving programs in the Farm Bill.