Now that Congress has returned from its August recess, members will resume deliberations surrounding the fiscal year 2018 budget.
Many of these discussions will focus on deep cuts to safety-net programs that protect our most vulnerable citizens. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is one of these important programs on the chopping block.
SNAP is the largest domestic hunger program in the country, providing nutrition assistance to millions of eligible individuals and families. The monthly benefits are federal dollars that flow into our local grocery stores, convenience stores, and even some local farmers markets, farm stands and community supported agriculture farms that sell “farm shares.”
In July, the House Budget Committee passed a budget resolution that calls for $4.4 trillion in cuts over the next decade, including at least $203 billion in domestic spending. The resolution instructs the Agriculture Committee to cut at least $10 billion over 10 years. Reports are that these cuts will likely be directed at SNAP, with an additional $150 billion in suggested cuts coming from dramatic downsizing and restructuring of the program.
Many argue that the effects of these cuts could be mitigated by the work of private charities like The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. However, SNAP provides many millions more meals each year than do all the food banks in the country. If those meals were to be cut, the private sector would be unable to fill the enormous gap that would remain.
Here in western Massachusetts, SNAP benefits help keep more than 100,000 seniors, veterans, children, working families and others from the debilitating effects of hunger. In Hampden County, 23 percent of households receive SNAP. In Franklin and Berkshire counties, the number is 14 percent, while 10 percent of all households in Hampshire County currently receive SNAP.
They are our friends, our neighbors, our family members, our co-workers and our fellow parishioners. They are the people working the checkout counter at our local grocery stores. They are the people driving our children’s school buses. They are the people providing home health care for our elderly parents. And it is our duty to make sure they do not have to choose between food and medicine. Or food and heat. Or food and winter coats for their children. It is our duty to work together to feed our neighbors in need and lead the community to end hunger.
Feeding people and ending hunger becomes exceedingly more difficult when the very programs meant to safeguard vulnerable populations are constant fodder for political debate, and in perpetual danger of being cut.
As our federal government once again begins to debate the merits and necessity of these critical programs, we ask you to join us in making your voice heard. We strongly urge you to reach out to your U.S. representatives and senators to oppose the House budget resolution that would decimate SNAP and other programs aimed at eliminating hunger in our great and prosperous country.
The federal budget should not be balanced by forcing hungry people to go without food.
Christina Maxwell is the director of programs, and Laura Sylvester is the legislative and community partnership coordinator, both at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts in Hatfield.