Child-nutrition bill threatens to increase hunger and poverty

A good child nutrition bill would make those improvements without taking help from the poorest Americans.

In the 2009 economic recovery act, Congress created a temporary but significant boost in SNAP benefits, as economists and lawmakers agreed that the boost would not only fight hunger but also help grow the economy.

Congress took back $11.9 billion of that money to help pay for a $26-billion state aid bill. The Senate Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill (S 3307) would eliminate another $2 billion by ending the stimulus benefits in October 2013, instead of April 2014. In the House, there is suddenly pressure to pass the Senate bill—without any changes—rather than consider its own version of child nutrition legislation.

House members should resist this damaging raid on the SNAP program. Food stamps are the nation’s first defense against hunger, and the added support has been a huge help to families in fending off hunger and in purchasing healthier food throughout the month, rather than running out in the third week of the month. Cutting benefits will increase hunger and could well contribute to childhood obesity and other health costs for many, as shoppers are forced to opt for cheaper, calorie-dense food with less nutritional value.

Not only will hunger rise, but poverty will, too. The Census poverty report last week found that SNAP benefits were enough to lift 3.6 million people above the poverty line in 2009 if counted as income, and many of those were due to the benefits increase. In fact, a White House blog posting by Jared Bernstein, the Chief Economic Advisor to Vice President Biden, touted the benefits of the recovery act and cited the role that increased SNAP benefits played in helping families facing hardship. Still, members of the administration now are recommending cuts to these very same benefits.

The House should not stand for this ill-timed, ill-conceived cut. More than 100 House members already have expressed their dismay with the Senate’s proposal and urged the Speaker to delay consideration of this bill until the House can find a more appropriate way to pay for the school meal programs. The SNAP cuts are also opposed by labor and anti-poverty groups, women’s groups, nearly 1,600 anti-hunger and allied national, state, and local groups and the national association of state human services officials.

In a time of record poverty, this is the wrong moment for Congress to reduce support for a program that has been the most effective part of the nation’s safety net. With nearly one in eight Americans relying on SNAP – a record high for participation – and with millions more living in poverty, this is the time for Congress to strengthen our safety net, not shred it.

Jim Weill is the president of the Food Research and Action Center, a national nonprofit organization working to improve public policies and public-private partnerships to eradicate hunger and inadequate nutrition in the United States.