Food stamp fund too important to be compromised

August 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

This opinion piece appeared in the Austin-American Statesman on August 18, 2010.

by David Davenport, President and CEO

Policymakers make difficult choices. Hungry people make them every day.

The legislative process is exhilarating, vexing, triumphant and inherently disappointing to both policymakers and their constituents. The dynamics of decision-making aren’t surprising … until they punch you in the gut.

President Barack Obama signed into law a jobs bill protecting our public school teachers and emergency responders, and providing assistance to states facing crippling budget deficits. The goals of the bill weren’t just laudable. They were required.

The disappointment comes from how our leaders decided to pay for the bill. They used nearly $12 billion in future Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — food stamp benefits. More than 40 million people in our country are at risk of hunger and simply cannot afford to lose food stamp benefits now or in the future. They too are unemployed teachers, police and human services employees. They are all of us.

For the organization I lead, the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas, the enactment of law that could hurt millions of people at risk of hunger is a disturbing step backward in the fight against hunger. There is no justification for using investments in a program helping low-income people feed and nourish their families to pay for other legislation. Period.

The rationale is: SNAP recipients aren’t endangered now. We can figure something out in a few years. I have two problems with this.

First, SNAP benefits should never be compromised or viewed as a slush fund to pay for any legislative priority. Second, the perception that SNAP recipients aren’t endangered now is because food banks are doing the hard work of providing emergency food assistance to ever-growing lines of people in need.

Last month, the Capital Area Food Bank distributed 2.7 million pounds of food, the most in the organization’s history. If the food bank had to shut down tomorrow, 95 percent of our partner agencies could no longer serve their clients.

Considering the economic crisis, SNAP must be protected at all times. If Congress has a crystal ball predicting how and when our economy will recover relative to the challenges low-income families at risk of hunger will face over the next several years, please share it with our country’s food banks.

In a state with an estimated $18 billion budget deficit and a country facing mind-blowing national debt, all parts of government need to use their best creative thinking to preserve services for vulnerable people and families while keeping costs down. But using SNAP benefits is not the answer.

Hunger is unacceptable, and SNAP benefits are critical in the fight to eliminate hunger. I understand that Congress and Obama have to make difficult choices — but hungry people make them every single day.

The integrity of some programs must never be compromised. Using the funding of a particular program for political convenience could result in 40 million individual tragedies. This program is SNAP.

Join us at www.austinfoodbank.org to get involved and help eliminate hunger for good.

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