Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Fight for Food: SNAP Benefits & Spending Cuts

By Kelly Baker, Regional Evaluation Associate VISTA

"It is hard to believe that in 2012 we are debating feeding people.”

The hard-hitting final words of Congresswoman Barbara Lee truly strike a chord, considering that the amount of people living under the poverty line has risen to an all-time high, with 46.2 million people living in poverty in 2010.

Last week, the congresswoman said these words arguing against the proposed new farm bill in the House of Representatives, which proposes $35 billion in spending cuts, including $16.5 billion from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP or, more informally, food stamps). By eliminating “categorical eligibility”,
2 to 3 million people would no longer qualify for the program.

Unquestionably, SNAP benefits are critical in keeping millions of our citizens out of extreme poverty. In a
two-part blog post on the outcomes of the SNAP program, Stacy Dean cites a study from the National Poverty Center: “Counting SNAP benefits as income reduces the number of households in extreme poverty in 2011 from 1.46 million to nearly 800,000, the study found (see graph).  And it reduces the number of children in extreme poverty in 2011 by half — from 2.8 million to 1.4 million.”


About 14% of Women’s Initiative clients first come through our doors dependent upon public assistance. Moreover, 20% of our clients are low-income single mothers and single-mother households have a 31.6% poverty rate, as compared to a 6.2% poverty rate for families headed by a married couple. Many opponents of government assistance programs posit that such programs perpetuate a cycle of dependence. However, we have seen at Women’s Initiative that by providing specialized training and space for personal growth and empowerment, even some of the neediest welfare recipients can become self-sufficient and provide for themselves and their families. In fact, just 12 months after training, only 12% of our clients are still receiving assistance and two years out that number drops to 8%. Additionally, the average amount of benefits received decreases from $575 to $391 after one year, and further reduced to an average of $266 two years after training. Thus, not only do our clients manage to decrease the amount of benefits they receive, but many are able to get off of them entirely.

Food assistance is a fundamental resource for many of our clients as well as the volunteers at Women’s Initiative. Personally, as an
AmeriCorps VISTA member, I know that many of my fellow volunteers would not be able to make the full-time commitment to our organization and others like us without this vital supplement to our modest living stipend.

Thank you, Congresswoman Lee, for fiercely defending an essential program for our community.

Of course, government assistance programs continue to be a hotly debated topic (just take a look at the comments left on the congresswoman’s
Facebook post). What are your thoughts? Do you agree with the congresswoman's argument?

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