By Tara A. Ellis and Michael Weiner
A family juggling multiple jobs to make ends meet. A senior who has to choose between affording medication and food. A child struggling to concentrate in school on an empty stomach. A veteran willing to sacrifice everything for our country who now needs our help. These are the faces of hunger.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — formerly known as food stamps — is the nation's first line of defense against hunger and helps one in seven New Yorkers feed their families. Now, as the House and Senate conference on the 2018 Farm Bill before it expires on Sept. 30, the fate of SNAP — and our neighbors in need — hangs in the balance.
The bipartisan Senate Farm Bill recognizes the importance and effectiveness of the SNAP program. In contrast, the House version includes extreme cuts to SNAP that would take food out of the mouths of millions of Americans. Some of the harshest changes come in the form of expanded work requirements that would affect unemployed and underemployed parents of school-aged children and adults up to age 60. SNAP is a nutrition program, not a jobs program, and while work is an important factor in moving SNAP recipients off the program, taking away food assistance won't help them find work faster.
SNAP benefits are modest in New York — an average of $1.52 per person per meal — but they make a big difference for the program's recipients. When families use SNAP to help meet their grocery bill, they have more take-home pay left for rent, child care and health care. Research suggests that every dollar spent in SNAP benefits adds $1.79 to the local economy. In 2017, more than 4.7 billion federal dollars were provided by SNAP and spent locally at grocery stores and farmers markets, supporting retailers and sustaining jobs.
Feeding our neighbors in need is a shared responsibility — and the nonprofit sector cannot do this alone. SNAP provides 12 meals for every one meal provided by the Feeding America nationwide network of food banks, which includes the Food Bank of WNY. If SNAP is cut, nonprofits won't be able to make up the difference in demand, meaning more community members will be confronting poverty and hunger.
Members of Congress have an opportunity to support a Farm Bill that protects the hungry while also supporting farmers and rural communities. Catholic Charities, Field & Fork Network, Food Bank of WNY, Food for All, Grassroots Gardens, Massachusetts Avenue Project, Meals on Wheels for WNY, Neighborhood Health Center, Somali Bantu Community Organization and United Way of Buffalo & Erie County are joining forces to urge our representatives to support a bipartisan bill that preserves SNAP benefits and helps our struggling neighbors put food on the table.
Tara A. Ellis is president and CEO of the Food Bank of WNY. Michael Weiner is president and CEO of the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County.