Star Tribune

Hunger: Our leaders need to feel the pain

Policies have been focused on pleasing special interests, not on helping those in need.

Article by: Harold J. Kravitz and Colleen Moriarty

Updated: June 13, 2013 - 8:25 PM

As leaders in the antihunger movement, we are disheartened when elected officials at both the state and national levels fail to prioritize common-sense solutions to meet the needs of hungry people in our communities.

At the state level, there were important achievements this session — increasing funding to Minnesota’s overextended food shelves and increasing milk subsidies. But because of intense lobbying by special-interest groups, legislators failed to address the troubling issue of schoolchildren who are on reduced price lunch being stigmatized and even turned away when their parents have not paid.

On the federal level, a farm bill proposal passed by the House Agriculture Committee ravaged assistance to those unfortunate Americans who don’t know how they will get their next meal. Minnesotans hoped that key members of our congressional delegation — Reps. Collin Peterson, Tim Walz and Rick Nolan, who serve on the committee — would have stood firm to protect the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), our nation’s most important antihunger program, when it is still so urgently needed.

On Nov. 1, when temporary funding provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act expires, SNAP benefits will be cut immediately for every SNAP recipient. The current farm bill includes devastating cuts to SNAP of $20.5 billion over 10 years. If those cuts occur, more than 38,000 people in Minnesota, a great majority of them senior citizens, will lose SNAP benefits entirely.

Millions of Americans continue to struggle through this painfully slow recovery. Working-poor families and 50,000 Minnesota seniors rely on SNAP to help meet their nutritional needs and spare them the impossible choice between buying food and paying for other necessities like housing or health care. SNAP is nothing short of a lifeline.

Most Minnesotans expect their representatives in Congress to protect a vital program like SNAP. Local charities serving the hungry need SNAP to remain robust. Our emergency food providers do not have the capacity to make up meals lost to a diminished SNAP program.

Advocates for drastic cuts argue that people on SNAP should “get a job and stop milking the system.” This ignores the facts — that nearly three-quarters of SNAP benefits go to households with children, that one in three households includes a senior and/or a person with a disability, and that 44 percent are working households.

One might think that something must be terribly wrong with SNAP for Congress to propose such draconian cuts. Nothing could be further from the truth. SNAP is our nation’s most effective program for protecting Americans from hunger, and with historically low error rates, it is also one of the most efficiently run of all federal programs.

Accepting cuts to SNAP is tantamount to taking food off our neighbors’ tables. It is reprehensible to achieve deficit reduction on the backs of the most vulnerable in our country. Cutting SNAP runs counter to longstanding bipartisan commitments to not increase poverty or hunger.

We appreciate that a number of members of Congress, including Minnesota Reps. Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum, along with Nolan, are taking a “SNAP Challenge” to get a better sense of what it is like for people to live on the very modest food budget provided by this program.

Congress can still do the right thing when the bill goes to the floor for a full House vote later this month. All Minnesotans who value the basic right to live free from hunger should urge their representatives to take the SNAP Challenge and, most important, to vote no on the current farm bill proposal. Insist that they work toward common-sense solutions to fighting hunger rather than accepting cuts that will only increase the problem.

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Rabbi Harold J. Kravitz is national board chair of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. Colleen Moriarty is executive director of Hunger Solutions-MN.

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