Earlier this week we met with Bob Greenstein from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. He is also a long time member of the Share Our Strength board. Bob’s focus is poverty and hunger. He knows that are even more narrowly focused on childhood hunger. And he wanted to be sure that we understood that the most effective childhood hunger program in the country is SNAP (food stamps). Three-quarters of SNAP recipients are families with children. 93% of SNAP benefits go to families with incomes below the poverty line (about $22,000 a year for a family of four.)
SNAP is also the program at greatest risk from budget cuts. The child nutrition programs such as school breakfast and summer meals are not expected to come under attack. But there has always been a political mythology about SNAP, especially that it is subject to fraud and abuse and can therefore afford to be cut. At one time that was true. But Democrats and Republicans came together and reformed the program. Today benefits average less than $1.25 per person per meal. So to cut SNAP could compromise the basic health and well being of more than 20 million low income households.
Whether SNAP makes for good political fodder may be debatable. The facts are not. In 2009 SNAP lifted 1.7 million children above the poverty line. Any serious effort to address the record levels of poverty recently reported must protect SNAP.