Despite his zeal for strength, President Trump’s proposed budget cries one thing: weakness.
In suggesting that we cut $193 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), the president is literally swatting food away from children before it can even reach their mouths, depriving them of key nutrients, and stunting their ability to grow and succeed.
Food is a basic need, not a privilege. Without food, our bodies begin to shut down, our brains do not function at peak capacity, and we cannot manage the daily tasks of learning in school or going to work. Food is key to survival, to getting an education and to breaking the cycle of poverty.
In addition to my work as Director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities, I served as co-chair of the National Commission on Hunger. Through that, I learned a lot about the effectiveness of SNAP. I was able to travel the United States and hear about how much the program does to support the health and well-being of our country.
I heard from a woman who used the supplements to buy the protein she needed to keep ailments like osteoporosis and diabetes from getting worse. I heard from working mothers who do not make enough money to feed their children and need SNAP to survive. I saw in every corner of our country how effective SNAP is as a work support and how much families rely upon it to make ends meet.
SNAP isn’t just a sieve, either. It’s also one of our country’s most efficient programs. It’s something that can grow as needed — and shrinks back down when not. Our current secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, called it “a very important, effective program.”
“You don’t try to fix things that aren’t broken,” said Perdue. But the White House is ignoring this basic wisdom.
I have told members of Congress that I believed hunger in the U.S. is solvable. Although the odds have been stacked against us in recent months, I still believe it’s possible. And it can be accomplished with measures that anyone, on the left or right side of the aisle, can see as reasonable.
We need to make SNAP stronger, not weaker. We must protect the structure of it so it’s responsive in a time of crisis. We need to invest in the program and ensure people are able to access it when they need it. We need to train staff who work with SNAP recipients to make applying for the program a positive experience that signals that America cares about its people, our health, and our success.
These proposed cuts to SNAP — not even mentioning the ones faced by other social programs — won’t move us forward. Parents will work just as hard at unforgiving jobs and see less food on the table for their families. Children will become sicker without the proper nutrition, ending up in hospitals or on the rolls of what social services remain. Some children will die.
All of this will make the United States weaker. We won’t have to look abroad to insidious cyber threats or destabilizing terroristic threats. The weakness will be right here, written into our country’s destiny by one of our own, in a document that purports to put America first.
Mariana Chilton, PhD, professor in Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health and director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities, former co-chair of the National Commission on Hunger.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.