Right now, the U.S. Congress is making important decisions about funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Funding for SNAP is included in the Farm Bill, a comprehensive piece of federal legislation authorizing and regulating funding for most federal farm and food policies. Congress reauthorizes the Farm Bill every five years. Last week, the U.S. Senate and House Agriculture Committees passed their farm bills. The Senate bill goes to the Senate floor today, and the House bill will be debated later this summer.
Appleseed opposes the cuts to SNAP included in these bills. Cuts to SNAP are devastating to families struggling to put food on the table, including low-income families in Nebraska. According to the Food Research and Action Center, 13.8% of Nebraskans were food insecure in 2012. This population includes working families, children, senior citizens, and disabled individuals.
Both the Senate and House versions of the farm bill that passed out of committee contain massive, harmful cuts to the SNAP program. On May 14, the Senate Ag Committee passed its farm bill, S. 954, which contains a $4 billion cut to SNAP over 10 years. Then, on May 16, the House Ag Committee passed H.R. 1947, which includes $20.5 billion in cuts to SNAP over 10 years. Included in the cuts are the elimination of incentive payments to states that help improve service delivery and accuracy. Since 2003, Nebraska has received 11 incentive payments.
However, the biggest cut comes from eliminating the “categorical eligibility” (“cat-el”) state option, which allows states to provide food assistance to households whose gross incomes or assets are slightly above federal SNAP limits (130% of the Federal Poverty Level), but who have disposable incomes below the poverty line.
More than 40 states, including Nebraska, have taken up this option, although Nebraska has not increased the gross income limit above 130% FPL. The House bill cuts would eliminate food assistance to nearly 2 million Americans, with working families with children and senior citizens being hit the hardest. Additionally, several hundred thousand low-income children would lose access to free school meals.
In addition to any of these proposed cuts that could make it into the final Farm Bill, all SNAP recipients are scheduled to face a reduction in benefits this fall when the temporary boost in SNAP benefits as part of 2009’s American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) expires.
SNAP is important beyond alleviating hunger. It aids in improving nutrition and health, especially among children, by increasing access to healthy and nutritious foods including fruit and produce. Also, SNAP funds go directly into local economies, fueling businesses. Every SNAP dollar generates an estimated $1.70 in local economic activity. All in all, SNAP provides many Nebraskans with crucial support in meeting basic needs.