Recent legislation and proposals in Congress, including the upcoming Farm Bill, have placed a target sign on food stamps (what's now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP). It's time to set the record straight on what's being proposed.
First, SNAP is the cornerstone of the nutrition safety net, with eligibility based on household income and assets and subject to work and citizenship requirements. SNAP provides over 90,000 Alaskans with monthly benefits, most of whom are especially vulnerable populations. The program, in fact, is targeted at our most vulnerable. Nationally, 76 percent of SNAP households contain a child, senior, or disabled member, and 84 percent of all benefits go to these households.
Furthermore, according to the 2010 Hunger Study conducted by Mathematica and Feeding America, 77,000 Alaskans receive some form of food assistance each year through the network of over 300 anti-hunger agencies in Alaska, and this network is reporting up to 30 percent increases in the number of clients they serve. Of the 77,000 individuals and households seeking food assistance, 73.5 percent are currently employed and 22.3 percent have some college education or completed a two-year degree program, and 11.7 percent have completed college or beyond. Hunger is truly equal opportunity and affects Alaska households of all demographics. The average Alaska household participating in SNAP receives a monthly benefit of $170.83 per person, or about $1.89 per person per meal.
Fortunately, SNAP is one of the most responsive safety net programs, expanding quickly to meet rising need during the recession. However, with the need for food assistance at historic levels, the Farm Bill must protect and strengthen the nutrition safety net, not cut and gouge it. Alaskans should urge Congress to invest in and protect programs like food stamps. Any cut to SNAP is a cut to what's in the refrigerators of the neediest people in Alaska. Attempts to dismiss such cuts as "accounting" fixes ignore the real impact such proposals have on Alaskans and their ability to purchase food.
Finally, SNAP is a strong and efficient program. The SNAP accuracy rate nationally is 96.19 percent (FY10). In Alaska the SNAP accuracy rate is higher than the national average, at 97.85 percent in FY10. SNAP targets the most vulnerable Alaskans, serving only those whose household incomes are below 130 percent of the federal poverty guideline.
Ignoring these strengths, the Senate plan for the Farm Bill includes a cut of $4.4 billion over 10 years to SNAP. That proposal could trigger sizable reductions in benefits for many households -- an estimated 500,000 households a year would lose $90 per month in SNAP benefits. The House is discussing larger cuts.
I had a friend in school that often came to school without having breakfast and more often then not had no lunch. Since I was lucky to come from a family that could provide me lunch and I had a job, I would share my lunch with her or purchase a lunch ticket for her. She told me much later, after we graduated, that that was often the only meal she had that day. That experience led me to be involved in working with food pantries and food banks. I would help organize drives or run a program because I knew that there were folks that needed this help.
We all need to do our part to battle hunger and we need Congress to help by not shredding our safety net.
Robin Phillips is a board member of the Food Bank of Alaska, former president of the South East Alaska Food Bank and a former legislative aide.