Last week’s Thanksgiving holiday marked the beginning of the winter holiday season, filled with family gatherings and celebratory meals. As we indulge in the coming weeks, let us keep in mind the 50 million Americans who are food insecure, including many of our neighbors here in Northern Virginia. For these individuals and families, just to put a healthy meal on the table each day is a struggle, often requiring the assistance of local food pantries and federal programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.
In 2012, nearly 800,000 Virginians received SNAP benefits to help with grocery bills. To be eligible for SNAP benefits, households must have monthly income at or below 130% of the poverty line, net income less than or equal to the poverty line, and total assets less than $2,000. Most recipients are required to apply for benefits in person, and all must provide documentation of eligibility. Undocumented immigrants are ineligible for benefits, as are workers on strike, certain legal immigrants, and most students.
Following the economic downturn in 2008, more Americans suddenly found themselves in financial distress. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act temporarily increased SNAP benefits for all SNAP households by 13.5 percent. Contrary to the attacks leveled against SNAP by Republicans, the program has functioned exactly as it was designed, expanding to combat the negative consequences of a recession. According to a Center for Budget and Policy Priorities analysis of National Academy of Science data, in 2010 SNAP kept about two million children out of poverty and lifted 1.3 million children out of deep poverty. Further, SNAP contributed to our economic recovery, yielding $1.72 in economic benefit for every $1 invested in the program.
Unfortunately, SNAP is one of the many programs in our social safety net that could face crippling cuts in the name of deficit reduction. Congress is currently working to prevent across-the-board sequestration cuts slated to go into effect this January that would be harmful to all aspects of our economy. One idea, a Republican proposal to stave off defense cuts by shifting those reductions to non-defense domestic programs, would have devastating consequences for vulnerable citizens most in need of assistance. A bill that passed the House Budget Committee earlier this year would cut SNAP by $36 billion. Under this plan, two million people, disproportionately low-income working families and the elderly, would lose SNAP benefits entirely. The other 44 million individuals receiving SNAP assistance would see their benefits cut, with the average family of four receiving SNAP assistance facing a benefit cut of $57 a month.
Though this proposal is not likely to be signed into law, similar ideas will be put forward as sequestration discussions continue. SNAP funding should be preserved not just because it is an efficient use of taxpayer money, but also because we have a moral responsibility to help those in need of basic nutrition assistance. I want to ensure those who depend on these programs have a voice at the negotiating table.
Despite the strength of our local economy, Northern Virginians are not immune from the growing food insecurity caused by unexpected financial difficulties. As I continue to work in Congress to protect funding for this important program, you can help out in Falls Church by donating money and canned items to local food pantries or volunteering your time this holiday season.