June 2013 U.S. Poverty Action
Use the Media to Talk about Hunger in America and Protecting SNAP
The Senate and House are expected to complete their respective Farm Bills in June and begin work on a final compromise bill. Both bills include proposals to cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). Generating media this month is critical to protecting hungry families in the Farm Bill. We must publicly remind our members of Congress that cuts to SNAP are unpopular and unacceptable back home. Submit letters to the editor, op-eds, and generate editorials in your local papers urging Congress to protect SNAP from cuts. Our goal is to get 30 SNAP pieces published this month from RESULTS volunteers.
Note: To find contact information for media outlets in your area, including telephone numbers and addresses, visit our Media Guide at http://capwiz.com/results/dbq/media/. In addition, see our Activist Toolkit pieces on writing a letter to the editor and generating an op-ed . Be sure to send your published piece to your members of Congress!
Why SNAP Matters
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) is critical now more than ever for millions of Americans struggling with food insecurity. As highlighted in a new study from the International Human Rights Clinic of NYU Law School (IHRC), 50 million people in the U.S., including 17 million children, were food insecure in 2011. This is an increase of 14 million people since 2007. For millions of people in this country, SNAP is a lifeline keeping them from drowning in poverty. In 2011, SNAP lifted 4.7 million people out of poverty. SNAP has also been vital during the Great Recession. As Paul Krugman pointed out in a recent New York Times op-ed, SNAP helped “mitigate the misery” of countless American families when they saw their jobs and incomes disappear after 2007. It has also served to help stabilize the economy by providing a much needed spending boost during the downturn; estimates are that SNAP generates $1.73 in economic activity for every $1 spent.
We must protect and strengthen SNAP so more people can participate and afford to buy the food that will keep them and their families healthy. The best answer to food insecurity is a good paying job. But until that is a reality for all Americans, we need a strong, robust SNAP program putting food on the table.
Unfortunately, Congress is not getting the message. In May, both the House and Senate began work on their respective Farm Bills. On May 20, the Senate began debating S.954, the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013, also known as the Farm Bill. Instead of strengthening SNAP, the Senate Farm Bill contains $4.1 billion in cuts to SNAP over ten years. This cut would impact states that choose to increase SNAP benefits for people who receive assistance to help pay utility bills (i.e. “Heat and Eat” programs). If enacted, 400,000 households could see their SNAP benefits drop by an average of $90 per month. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) offered an amendment to the S.954 which would have eliminated the cuts to SNAP; it was defeated 70-26. Other amendments which would have cut SNAP even deeper were also defeated. The Senate is expected to complete debate and vote on its final version of the Farm Bill the week of June 3.
Meanwhile, things are even worse in the House. On May 16, the House Agriculture Committee passed the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 (H.R.1947). The House Farm Bill cuts SNAP by $21 billion over ten years. Most of these cuts come from eliminating categorical eligibility for SNAP or “Cat El”, which gives states flexibility to loosen SNAP’s strict eligibility requirements and enroll more low-income people in the program. Currently, 40 states use Cat El. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) estimates that eliminating Cat El would force nearly 2 million low-income people off SNAP and deny 210,000 low-income children free school meals. The House also makes a deeper cut to “Heat and Eat” programs, which would reduce SNAP benefits for 850,000 households by an average cut of $90 per month.
The House is expected to take up their Farm Bill the week of June 17. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA-2) plans to offer an amendment to undo the SNAP cuts in the Farm Bill (a similar amendment was defeated during the Agriculture Committee mark-up). There will likely be House amendments to cut SNAP even deeper as well. RESULTS opposes the House Farm Bill with these SNAP cuts and strongly supports Rep. McGovern’s amendment to undo them.
Once the House and Senate pass their respective Farm Bills, leaders will negotiate a final compromise bill in a conference committee. We must ensure that if and when that happens, they have few or no SNAP cuts included.
Up the Ante with an Op-ed
Letters to the editor (LTE) are a great way to raise awareness about protecting SNAP. However, op-eds and editorials give the issue even more prominence and attention. These pieces are longer than LTEs, giving the author room to elaborate about the value of SNAP, which helps better educate readers and lawmakers about and the need to strengthen the program, not cut it.
We urge you to magnify your advocacy impact by submitting an op-ed this month about SNAP, or consider asking your paper to write an editorial about protecting SNAP. For tips on op-eds and editorial, see our Activist Toolkit items Writing an Op-Ed on a RESULTS Issue and Generating an Editorial on a RESULTS Issue. If you need help or coaching in writing an op-ed or requesting an editorial, please contact RESULTS volunteer media training coordinator Ginnie Vogts ([email protected]).
Urge Members of Congress to Take the SNAP Challenge
Another way to increase awareness of America’s hunger problem is to participate in the SNAP Challenge. The Challenge asks people to live on a SNAP budget for a week. SNAP benefits are on average about $1.50 per meal. Trying to maintain a healthy diet on $4.50 per day is a challenge SNAP recipients face every day, which for most members of Congress, is completely foreign. The SNAP Challenge gives people a brief glimpse what life is like for food insecure households on a daily basis.
The week of June 10, Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA-13), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-9), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL-8), Jim McGovern (D-MA-2), John Conyers (D-MI-13), Dan Kildee (D-MI-5), Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH-2), Marcia Fudge (D-OH-11), Joseph Crowley (D-NY-14), Gregory Meeks (D-NY-5), and Charlie Rangel (D-NY-13) will be taking the SNAP Challenge. Let’s get as many members of Congress as possible taking the challenge with them. In your letters and op-eds, ask your members of Congress by name to take the SNAP Challenge. You can also send a letter to their offices urging them to take the Challenge (contact Jos Linn ([email protected]) for a draft letter you can customize and send). The more members of Congress we have taking the challenge, the more awareness we raise about hunger in America and the need to protect SNAP. Read more about the SNAP Challenge from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
We also invite anyone in our volunteer network who would like to stand in solidarity with hungry families to do the Challenge as well, either for a day, a few days or the whole week. Not only can the experience help you walk a few steps in the shoes of a hungry family, it also gives you a great hook for media. Sharing your experience is a great story for letters, op-eds, and editorials.