‘I’m ashamed that hunger is a problem in this country and I think it’s a travesty’
Advocates for one of the nation’s most effective anti-poverty initiatives spoke out this week against proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
President Trump has proposed a cut of $193 billion over ten years to SNAP, or just over 25 percent of SNAP’s funding. SNAP serves more than 42 million Americans, including roughly one in four children. Experts estimate that half of all children in the U.S. will receive SNAP benefits at some point in their childhoods.
The Food Research & Action Center Wednesday hosted a news conference to defend SNAP. (Full disclosure: FRAC is a member of the Coalition on Human Needs.)
Speaking at the event were Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Jim McGovern (D-MA), FRAC President Jim Weill, and Sherry Brennan, a high-ranking television executive who recounted her experience as a child receiving SNAP benefits, then known as food stamps.
McGovern said he finds it “unconscionable” that hunger exists in a country as affluent as the U.S., and he called hunger “a political condition.”
“We have the tools, the resources, we have everything to end it except the political will,” he said.
He noted that SNAP already is an under-funded program – the average benefit is $1.40 per meal, per person. “The idea that we would talk about reducing that is misguided,” he said. “Being poor in this country is hard work, it’s a full-time job. The least we can do is make sure these people have food on their table.”
And he predicted that proposed cuts to SNAP will not fall along partisan lines in Congress, with Democrats opposing the cuts and Republicans favoring them. He noted that Republican members of Congress are hearing from their constituents about the importance of SNAP. “I’m working with Republicans who I think get it,” he said.
DeLauro said one in eight children in her home state of Connecticut receive SNAP benefits. “President Trump’s budget is an assault on the vulnerable,” she said. “SNAP works for those who need it most, and it especially works for households with children.”
Sherry, who shared her story last year with Voices for Human Needs, described her childhood with three siblings and a mother and stepfather who both worked outside the home, but were under-employed and did not earn enough money to put food on the table.
“I was not the face of hunger because we had help,” Sherry explains. “I was able to eat what I consider today to be modest meals, things like rice and beans, things like scrambled eggs and apples and peanut butter.”
And because she had help, Sherry says, “I was able to stay in school. I was able to focus on my studies. I participated in the life of my school. I edited the high school year book. I played soccer. I did all the things that normal American children expect to be able to do and should expect to be able to do and should be able to do with a full stomach.”
With help, and by working part-time, Sherry attended college and eventually earned a Master’s degree in economics. Today she earns a decent salary as a TV executive, which places her in a higher tax bracket – meaning she already has paid much more in taxes than she and her family ever received in SNAP benefits. “I would pay my debt back to this country a thousand times and in fact, at this point, I probably already have. I’ve been working over 30 years and have exponentially paid the investment made in me and my family. We’re all grateful. And I am shocked and ashamed and saddened to hear that I still need to come to Washington and fight this fight. I’m ashamed as well that hunger is a problem in America and I think it is a travesty.”