Andrew Morehouse: Gutting SNAP program will hurt many in region

HATFIELD, Ma.— Shortly after giving birth to her youngest child, Shannon, a teacher in Chicopee, found herself in a harrowing situation. Her husband moved out of state after being laid off from his job. With an infant and three other young children to care for, Shannon was unable to work and quickly ran out of money to pay the bills. She and her children were evicted from their home, and forced to move into a shelter and rely on SNAP food benefits to survive.

After several years of hard work and perseverance, Shannon was able to return to work, move herself and her children into an apartment, and transition off of public benefits. This is the way our public welfare system is designed to — and usually does — work. When people fall onto hard times, the safety net is there to support them while they get back on their feet.

Last week, the president released his fiscal year 2019 budget proposal which takes aim at critical programs that support millions of hardworking Americans trying to make ends meet. One of these vital programs is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), putting our most vulnerable neighbors at even greater risk. Less than two months after signing into law massive tax cuts that largely benefit corporations and the wealthiest Americans, the president's budget slashes $213 billion from SNAP over 10 years — a nearly 30 percent reduction. At least four million Americans would lose their SNAP benefits entirely.

Instead of allowing SNAP recipients to purchase the food that is best for their health, the president's plan would provide a "harvest box" of shelf-stable nonperishable items to recipients. Far less food would be available for struggling households and logistically it would be unfeasible. It would also upend SNAP's successful public/private partnership with 260,000 retail stores throughout the country in favor of a new government-driven approach to procuring food for SNAP households.

Closing this enormous gap would fall on the nation's 200 food banks and their local feeding site partners. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts is already at full capacity. Food retailers would lose billions of dollars in SNAP revenue, that, ironically, they depend on to hire low-wage employees trying to play by the rules. If enacted, the president's proposals would end our decades-long commitment to feeding Americans facing hunger.

Here in Western Massachusetts, SNAP benefits prevent approximately 150,000 seniors, veterans, children, working families and others from experiencing the damaging effects of hunger. These are our friends, neighbors, family members, co-workers and our fellow parishioners. We deserve a national budget that is fair and supports everyone in our community.

It will take all of us, raising our voices together, to bring positive change. We urge you to contact your elected representatives — Congressman Richard Neal, and Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren — and tell them you oppose these destructive budget cuts. The lives of millions of American families are on the line.

Andrew Morehouse is executive director at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts


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