Last week, President Obama reauthorized and signed the Farm Bill into effect. After months of deliberations and threats of drastic cuts, the bill passed the House and the Senate and moved to the President late last month. Initially, some members of Congress suggested taking away $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), but the final version included cuts of only $8 billion in addition to the $5 billion cut in November. The Food Research and Action Council (FRAC) estimates that over 850,000 households will see their benefits fall by an average of $90 a month.
But any cuts to SNAP and anti-hunger programs will harm the health of all people depending on those programs. Good health starts with nutritious food, and lack of access to good nutrition makes it harder for people to fight off illness, control chronic diseases, concentrate in school, look for work, get on their feet, and live their lives. Current SNAP benefits average less than $1.50 per meal, and reducing that number will make it even harder for families, children, and people living in poverty to find adequate and healthy meals.
At Heartland Health Outreach (HHO), the majority of our participants need SNAP to make ends meet. We work with the most vulnerable – people who are experiencing homelessness, mental illness or addictions, or struggling with multiple chronic illness. Without good food, these people cannot begin to confront their other challenges. Anti-hunger programs like SNAP give these individuals a lifeline and a starting point, and they are also some of the most effective and economically safety nets our government offers. Alone, food pantries and other hunger relief services could never meet the needs of the 47 million Americans currently using SNAP benefits.
Already, we are seeing effects of the cuts at HHO. In addition our current participants who use SNAP, many former participants depend on the benefits as they transition to self-sufficiency. With news of the recent cuts, programs like Vital Bridges have already seen an influx of calls from former participants hoping to re-enroll in food and nutrition services. The cuts are a frustrating step backwards for these individuals. We plan to do all we can to meet the need of every person who walks through our doors, but it will undoubtedly be a struggle to fill the gaps the government is creating.
How can you take a stand now, even with the vote finished and the bill signed? Here are some ideas from FRAC and Feeding America.
- See how your representatives voted on the FRAC website – and thank those who spoke out to defend anti-hunger programs.
- Tell your Members of Congress to visit a food bank so they understand what hunger looks like in their community
- Learn more by reading Feeding America’s Farm Bill press statement.
- Make sure to watch and share the video showing real people who need these vital programs.