Why we are calling on Congress to protect basic food assistance

Why we are calling on Congress to protect basic food assistance

[Editor’s note: The latest data on hunger in North Carolina are deeply disturbing. As Brian Kennedy of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center reported last November, “Over the last few years, North Carolina has remained one of the hungriest places in the US. With one in six people defined as ‘food-insecure, North Carolina is the 10th hungriest state in the nation.” Now to make matters even more problematic, the Trump budget would slash the SNAP food assistance program even further. In the following essay, veteran Raleigh-area anti-hunger advocates Andy Petesch and Cindy Sink explain why they are calling on Congress to reject this proposal.]

Every day brings new reports that Congress is interested in further whittling away at the programs comprising the social safety net for low-income households, the disabled, and the elderly. One of the programs at risk is SNAP, formerly Food Stamps, a program that helps 1.5 million low-income North Carolinians buy essential groceries each month for themselves and their families.

SNAP and other nutrition programs are part of the Farm Bill, which is up for renewal in 2018. The President’s budget proposes cutting SNAP by $193 million. Some members of Congress are now seeking to further slash benefits, change the structure, and add work requirements to this important program (most SNAP recipients who are able to work, do). What they fail to understand, however, is that SNAP in its current form is effective and efficient.

SNAP provides nutrition assistance for our state’s most vulnerable people. In North Carolina, SNAP predominantly aids households with children, seniors, and people with disabilities. And these benefits pay long-term dividends: in addition to reducing hunger, those who receive SNAP benefits in early childhood have a lower risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes as adults. SNAP is also associated with higher use of preventive care, which can contribute to lower healthcare costs overall. Furthermore, SNAP pumped $2.2 billion into North Carolina’s economy last year alone. The program is also responsible for lifting hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians out of poverty. Not only does SNAP work – for those most in need and for the state’s economy at large –  but its current structure allows the program to expand in times of greater need, such as the 2008 recession, and contract in times of economic prosperity.

Here in the fourth congressional district, thousands of households depend on SNAP benefits to help make ends meet. Even in Wake County, one of the wealthiest counties in the state, 18% of our children are food insecure. SNAP benefits are essential for helping our kids face each day ready to thrive. Families and individuals need SNAP to meet basic nutritional needs.

Eleven food policy councils across the state of North Carolina, including Capital Area Food Network in Wake County, as well as councils in Durham and Orange counties, have joined with over 120 cross-sector organizations to urge Congress to protect SNAP. The groups are promoting the Twitter hashtag #protectSNAP.

The towns of Hillsborough, Carrboro, and Chapel Hill recently passed resolutions urging our representatives to keep this program – so critical to our local residents in need – intact. This February, food councils and other participating organizations will ask Senator Burr, Senator Tillis, and Congressman Price to reject any proposals in the 2018 Farm Bill that cut funding to SNAP and other federal nutrition programs; shift costs to the states; or otherwise reduce benefits affecting low-income families, workers, children, the unemployed, or the elderly.

To learn more about these efforts to and help vulnerable North Carolinians, check out the #protectSNAP hashtag on Twitter or click here to get the latest updates from the Food Research and Action Center.

Andy Petesch is President of the Capital Area Food Network and Cindy Sink is the Network’s Food Access & Security Circle Lead.