Published Friday, September 13, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 4:04 pm
Midlands Voices: Targeting SNAP in budget cuts hurts millions

The writer, of Walthill, Neb., is a Thurston County farmer and a longtime board member of the Center for Rural Affairs.

Farmers know the value of a hard day’s work. We provide for our families and look after our neighbors. Most of us are churchgoers. We serve those less fortunate, especially if they’re children, senior citizens or the heroes who served in our military. And we know what it takes to put food on America’s tables.

The values of rural Nebraska don’t belong to any political party. They’re the values that built the foundation of our nation. But in Congress, those values are under attack by an alarming proposal to wipe out basic food assistance for millions of American families.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that nearly 18 million households across America — some 49 million people — lacked access to adequate food at some point last year, including 99,000 households in Nebraska.

Here in Nebraska, 180,000 people (about one of every 10 Nebraskans) relied on America’s most effective anti-hunger tool, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, to put food on their tables. Most of these folks are either children or belong to families responsible for feeding children.

In other words, even in a breadbasket state like ours, tens of thousands of children struggle to get enough food to eat every day. And that’s where SNAP comes in. SNAP provides basic, healthy food to families at a low cost of about $1.36 per meal. It is an important barrier between hunger and opportunity that has sadly become a political football in Congress.

Reps. Jeff Fortenberry, Adrian Smith and Lee Terry, and their colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives, are debating a proposal to rip tens of billions of dollars out of SNAP. House members this summer failed to pass their farm bill largely because it included huge cuts to food assistance. And now House leaders are doubling down, proposing to make even deeper cuts.

SNAP isn’t some huge corporation that finds loopholes to avoid paying its fair share of taxes. It isn’t some federal earmark to build a “bridge to nowhere.” SNAP feeds hungry families, including children, seniors and veterans. It’s a proven program that helps lift people out of poverty in Nebraska and across the country.

SNAP also generates econom- ic activity. According to Moody’s Analytics, for every $1 invested in SNAP last year, Nebraska saw $1.70 in economic activity — meaning this hunger assistance actually pumped about $259 million into our economy.

So why bring this effective anti-hunger initiative to its knees? That’s a great question. And the supporters of this irresponsible proposal don’t seem to have any good answers.

We can all agree that we need to do more to reduce our nation’s deficit. No hardworking taxpayer should tolerate waste, fraud and abuse. But punishing hungry Nebraskans is not the way to do it.

A few of this proposal’s supporters have already pointed to instances where people have made headlines by taking advantage of the system. But their plan goes much further than buckling down on folks who cheat the system. Their plan would cause hunger in Nebraska.

Nebraskans should remind our congressmen that there are much more responsible ways to reduce our deficit. Turning to our most vulnerable citizens to do it is not a Nebraska value.

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