The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – often called food stamps – helped my family on and off for 10 years. For part of that time, I was working at a Seattle-based nonprofit with formerly homeless people. SNAP’s modest average benefit – $1.34 per person per meal – ensured my kids always had enough to eat.
Today, 877,000 Washingtonians depend on SNAP. In our state, it’s called Basic Food Assistance. Despite its importance, the program is at risk of major cuts. The House and Senate are working to reauthorize the farm bill, the federal legislation governing our nation’s agriculture and nutrition programs.
In Washington, SNAP feeds 17 percent of households in small towns and rural areas. It feeds 14 percent of households in metro areas. Parents, children, seniors, and people with disabilities rely on SNAP. So do people who are unemployed and workers who are part time when they’d prefer to be full time.
Like me, most SNAP participants who can work do work. Unfortunately, many of us have jobs with unpredictable hours and very low wages that can’t support a family. I only work 15 hours per week, even though I’d like to work more. Additional hours aren’t usually available. And even when they are, scheduling is hard because I care for two grandsons.
SNAP provided me with a sense of security. Because my food needs were met, I could spend my earnings on housing, utilities, and transportation. We’re extremely grateful for our local food bank, but it’s not enough for a big family. And they may not have the foods we’d choose on our own.
Right now, the U.S. House and Senate are trying to reconcile two very different farm bills. The House farm bill would cut SNAP benefits for more than 2 million people and take away school lunches from 265,000 children. Families like mine would be denied the help they need.
The House farm bill would eliminate a provision that allows states to gradually decrease SNAP benefits as people’s earnings go up. For many recipients, small pay raises or working more hours can create a “benefit cliff” that cuts them off from SNAP (even if help is still needed). Washington has used the option of phasing down benefits to create incentives to work and promote long-term economic security. When I was on SNAP, this made the transition into employment much easier.
The Senate’s farm bill would strengthen SNAP and put additional money toward education and training. Washingtonians are lucky to have one of the country’s best SNAP job training programs: the Basic Food Employment & Training (BFET) program. The Senate farm bill would double down on effective programs like ours, help people get trained for good-paying jobs
As a former SNAP recipient, I know how important it is to help people put food on the table. That’s why I’m disappointed in Washington’s Republican representatives. Every one of them, including Congressman Dave Reichert, voted in favor of the harmful House bill.
However, there’s another opportunity to do the right thing. The Senate farm bill is bipartisan; it builds on what works in SNAP; and it’s a commitment to our promise that no one goes hungry in America. It’s time for Congress to do the right thing and pass the Senate farm bill – ensuring families like mine can get help when they need it.
– Juanita Maesta, board president of the Statewide Poverty Action Network and a member of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Poverty Reduction Work Group.