As Congress debates this year’s farm bill, the fate of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called “food stamps”) hangs in the balance, with the program facing unprecedented funding cuts of up to $40 billion over the next 10 years.
As a small business lender working to reach entrepreneurs in underserved communities, we know that healthy economies are built by healthy people. However, the health of our communities faces formidable challenges. Unemployment and poverty are on the rise, and too many in our state literally do not know where their next meal will come from. Cutting funding for SNAP amid these mounting challenges will have a significant impact not only on those who rely on the program, but also on our communities and our economy as a whole.
Communities across the state are in dire need of economic development, but efforts to develop local economies can only be so effective when a growing number of people cannot meet their basic needs. According to the US Department of Agriculture, North Carolina ranked fifth among states for “food insecurity,” which is defined as unstable access to food and risk of hunger. Seventeen percent of North Carolinians, or nearly 3.8 million people, were food insecure between 2010 and 2012, an increase from 14.8 percent between 2007 and 2009. This rise in food insecurity, driven by persistent unemployment and increasing poverty, provides a clear signal that economic opportunity remains out of reach for too many of our citizens.
SNAP, however, has helped to stem some of the impacts of the Great Recession. A total of 1.6 million low-income people in the state rely on SNAP to meet their families’ nutritional needs. Analysis by the Budget & Tax Center shows that almost three-quarters of SNAP participants in our state are families with children, and 27 percent are families with elderly or disabled members. Nationally, SNAP has helped keep almost five million people out of poverty, including 2.2 million children.
For children in particular, SNAP was the most effective of government programs in lifting them above the poverty line.
SNAP alone cannot combat hunger, and it is in no way a solution to end poverty. We need comprehensive solutions in order to achieve a broadly shared economic recovery across all of our regions and communities. Our work with small businesses and expanding access to capital is just one piece of the puzzle. As we work to develop long-term solutions, and as our economy improves and as more people are able to access economic opportunity, SNAP participation will decrease, just as it has after previous recessions. In the meantime, SNAP is one of the ways we can help struggling families stay afloat and out of poverty during difficult economic times.
Health and wealth go hand in hand; this is something that we see daily in our work with small businesses and in communities across the state. Food is the fundamental building block of health, and the unfortunate reality is that too many of us cannot even afford this basic need. As the farm bill and proposed cuts to SNAP are negotiated over the coming days and weeks, let’s hope that Congress can keep in mind the important role that the program has played for our families and in our economy. Rather than cutting funding to SNAP, let us focus our energy toward developing solutions that will help improve local economies from the ground up.
Lenwood V. Long, Sr. is the President/CEO of The Support Center in Wake Forest, NC.