Hunger is a serious problem in America. Nearly 49 million Americans—including more than one in five children—live in households that struggle to put food on the table.
The fastest, most direct way to reduce hunger is through our nation's nutrition programs, which meet the needs of millions of children and other vulnerable people. These programs serve one in four Americans annually.
But despite their success, two programs are at risk:
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps), supplements the food budgets of the neediest people through a card that can be used at grocery stores or other authorized locations. Eighty-five percent of SNAP benefits go to families with incomes below the poverty line ($22,113 for a family of four in 2010). SNAP served more than 40 million Americans in 2010.
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) safeguards the health of low-income women, infants, and children up to age 5 by providing monthly packages of food that supply nutrients lacking in their diets. WIC also provides information on healthy eating, breastfeeding support, and referrals to health care. Families with incomes up to 185 percent of the poverty level ($40,409 for a family of four in 2010) can participate. WIC served more than 9 million women and children in 2010.
These nutrition programs provide vital assistance. While poverty and unemployment have risen the last three years, programs such as SNAP and WIC have kept household hunger rates from increasing further. These programs are working as they were intended.
Federal nutrition programs have continued to be targeted for cuts.
This spring, the House of Representatives voted on a budget resolution that cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) by $133.5 billion—nearly 20 percent over 10 years—and recommended turning the program into a block grant. Today, SNAP automatically covers all eligible families, responding as need rises and falls. Under a block grant, SNAP would give a set amount of money to states every year, which would limit each state’s ability to respond quickly to increases in need.
In addition to the budget cuts passed by the House, the House Agriculture Committee was instructed to find $33.2 billion in savings from agriculture programs. The committee proposed a $36 billion cut—solely from SNAP. If enacted, this proposal would kick approximately 2 million people out of the program, reduce monthly benefits for all participants, and most certainly increase hunger and poverty.
In June, the Senate successfully continued its efforts to renew the farm bill by passing the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012 by a vote of 64-35. The farm bill—which governs federal farm and food policy, including SNAP—presents an opportunity to continue, alter, or discontinue federal farm and nutrition programs. As the largest share of agricultural spending, SNAP has been targeted for cutting. The Senate bill included a $4.5 billion cut to SNAP. This cut would lead to a drop in SNAP benefits for approximately 500,000 SNAP households in 14 states and the District of Columbia.
The House Agriculture Committee introduced its version of the farm bill in early July. In it, SNAP was targeted for a $16 billion cut. If made into law, this cut would kick 2-3 million people out of the program and end free school meals for approximately 280,000 low-income children.
Further, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have begun work on their annual spending bills. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is funded through this process. The Senate Appropriations Committee has provided WIC with $7.041 billion—enough to cover the current and projected caseload—while the House Appropriations Committee has provided $6.922 billion. These are only the first steps in the funding process. As Congress continues to search for savings and these bills come up for votes in the House and Senate, WIC remains at risk.
Create a circle of protection around funding for vital domestic nutrition programs that meet the needs of millions of American families.