May 2016 U.S. Poverty Action

Defend SNAP with A Letter to the Editor

Food insecurity affects 1 in 7 Americans. That means that they do not always have access to enough food to eat to keep them healthy for an active lifestyle. Being food insecure can not only affect health, but it also affects a person’s ability to work or learn in school. Fortunately, we have the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). 

Earlier this year, House Speaker Paul Ryan created a Taskforce on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility. This comes at a time when some policymakers and candidates have a renewed interest in addressing poverty in America. Sadly, Speaker Ryan and others have proposed deep cuts and drastic changes to SNAP and other anti-poverty programs in previous budget and policy proposals, which could result in millions of people losing access to these critical benefits.

Generating media is a powerful tool for shaping public policy – it is particularly important to engage the media before and after the Poverty Task Force releases their recommendations, which will then shape the larger debate since Congress is unlikely to move on major legislation during an election year. Use these talking points to write a letter to the editor urging policymakers to protect and strengthen SNAP:

  1. Respond to a recent coverage about Congress, poverty in your community, the elections, or new data on how many Americans are struggling to put food on the table.  
  2. Let readers know SNAP (formerly food stamps) is a powerful anti-hunger program: SNAP lifted 4.7 million people out of poverty in 2014.
  3. Highlight the importance of SNAP for millions of Americans – and share your own story if possible. Eighty percent of SNAP benefits go to households that include children, people with severe disabilities, and senior citizens (find SNAP data from your state at: http://www.cbpp.org/research/a-closer-look-at-who-benefits-from-snap-state-by-state-fact-sheets).
  4. Also mention that SNAP is an effective response to hunger in times of emergencies or economic downturn.
  5. Express your concern that the House Poverty Task force may propose restructuring SNAP, which would undermine this effectiveness and could result in millions of people being forced off the program.
  6. Call on your members of Congress by name to oppose cuts or changes to SNAP that would harm vulnerable children and families, increase hunger, and reduce SNAP’s effectiveness.

Note: To find media outlets in your area 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. If you are pressed for time, use our online SNAP letter to the editor alert to send a letter right now. Be sure to send your published piece to your members of Congress!


Sample Op-Ed: Opportunities and Dangers of the House Poverty Task Force

In addition to letters, you can maximize your impact in the media by submitting an op-ed urging Congress to protect SNAP. Op-eds give you more room to discuss the issue and provide a more prominent place for readers to see it in your local paper. Start by telling your own story if possible, adapt the talking points in our April Action, draw inspiration from our editorial memo, or tailor this sample op-ed to submit to your local paper.

[Suggested Headline: Speaker Ryan, Here is What Your Anti-Poverty Plan Should Look Like]

We may be in the midst of a contentious presidential campaign, but politicians on both sides of the aisle seem to recognize something fundamental: the need to address poverty in America and the millions of people who struggle each day to pay for basics like groceries, electricity, and a safe place to sleep.

Earlier this year, House Speaker Paul Ryan created a Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility. This is a welcome development, but as the Task Force prepares to make its recommendations, I would urge Speaker Ryan to protect and expand two federal programs that have already been remarkably effective at reducing poverty in America: The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The EITC is a refundable tax credit for low-wage workers, and together with the Child Tax Credit it lifts 9 million people out of poverty every year. That’s incredible if you stop and think about it, but unfortunately, it does little to nothing for adult workers without children. If these workers happen to be under the age of 25, they are completely ineligible for the EITC. When a full-time minimum wage salary is $14,500 before taxes, the under-25 rule is especially hard to comprehend. Instead of helping young workers as they begin their careers or other low-wage workers who don’t claim children on their tax forms, we are taxing them into poverty.

This has to stop, and luckily it’s a point that Speaker Ryan and President Obama agree on. Both support a plan to double the credit available to childless workers and to lower the age of eligibility from 25 to 21. According to estimates from the Treasury Department, the Ryan and Obama proposals would benefit 13.5 million Americans, lift 500,000 hardworking Americans out of poverty, and reduce the depth of poverty for another 10.1 million.

This is the kind of creative thinking we need. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about Speaker Ryan’s approach to SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. Currently, 45 million people — almost half of them children — receive SNAP benefits. SNAP lifted 4.7 million people out of poverty in 2014 and significantly reduces hunger and poor health in kids.

Given the program’s success, it’s baffling as to why Speaker Ryan and members of his Task Force repeatedly put forward proposals to turn SNAP into something called a block grant (disguised as a “merged funding stream”). That means SNAP would no longer be a federally administered program. Instead, the funds would be given directly to states at a fixed amount, removing many of the very features of SNAP that make it so impactful: its ability to increase in emergencies and to adjust over time for inflation.

Instead of decimating a program that has been proven to work — and leaving millions of children without a reliable food source — Speaker Ryan’s Task Force should be looking for ways to strengthen and expand SNAP. For example, the monthly benefits should be increased so that families can afford to put food on the table throughout the month, and buy healthy food like fresh fruits and vegetables. SNAP benefits should also be extended over a longer period of time so people can more easily transition into the work force or a better paying job.

There are no simple answers when it comes to ending poverty in this country, but by protecting and strengthening the EITC and SNAP, we can make sure that millions of Americans have what they need to move forward, care for their families, and work towards reaching their full potential.