November 2013 U.S. Poverty Laser Talk

Call an Agriculture Aide about Protecting SNAP

Hi, my name is Meredith Dodson and I am a constituent from Anytown. I've left you messages before when I've called on behalf of RESULTS – I am a volunteer advocate concerned about poverty in America. Can I have 5 minutes of your time to talk about SNAP and the Farm Bill?

YES, I HAVE A FEW MINUTES BEFORE A MEETING

As you probably know, the latest USDA data says that more than 1 in 5 children in the U.S. were at risk of going to bed hungry last year. I'm a mother of two young children and I know firsthand that children who are hungry are tough to deal with – and they struggle to learn in school, suffer from weakened immune systems so they are more likely to get sick. This is why the SNAP program, formerly known as Food Stamps, is so critical – and just this past week the  U.S. Census reported that SNAP lifted 5 million people out of poverty in 2012.

I am disappointed that both the House and Senate are proposing cuts to SNAP. Actually, I was feeling outraged when the House passed a bill that would cut the program by $40 billion over the next ten years, forcing at least 3.8 million Americans off the program and denying 210,000 children free meals at school. What's your office's position on the House legislation?

WE DON'T HAVE A POSITION BUT I KNOW WE ARE CONCERNED ABOUT FRAUD AND ABUSE IN THE SNAP PROGRAM.

SNAP has one of the strictest and most rigorous quality control systems of any public benefit program. Fewer than 2 percent of SNAP benefits are issued to households that do not meet all of the program’s eligibility requirements, a record-low rate. Overall, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found SNAP has an accuracy rate above 96 percent and fraud rate of only 1.3 percent. SNAP achieved its lowest error rates on record in fiscal year 2011, even as caseloads were rising as more people found themselves in poverty and administrative resources were strained. The program is working – as I mentioned earlier, SNAP lifted 5 million people out of poverty in 2012

How familiar are you with the House bill's so called “work provisions”?

SOMEWHAT, BUT I HAVEN'T EXAMINED IT CLOSELY

Well, the legislation would force 1.7 million unemployed Americans off the program who live in high unemployment areas and want to work but cannot find a job or a slot in a job training program. And, what's called the Southerland amendment really doesn't make sense to me –– a provision in the House bill that throws parents with children as young as one who cannot find work or are unable to find safe and affordable child care for their young children off SNAP. Do you handle child care issues for the Senator?

NO, I DO NOT

Well, I can tell you that child care is incredibly expensive and only one out of six low-income families eligible for child care assistance are able to receive it now. And the Southerland amendment gives states the incentive to slash SNAP by giving them half the savings.

I NEED TO LOOK INTO THAT MORE. WE'VE HEARD THE PROGRAM DOES NOT DO ENOUGH TO ENCOURAGE SNAP PARTICIPANTS TO WORK

SNAP has strict work requirements for adults without children -- they can only get SNAP for 3 months our of every 5 years unless working 20+ hours. Now Governors can ask for waivers in areas of high unemployment – the House bill takes away that important state flexibility. Currently, there are about 3 unemployed workers for every 1 job opening. What we need is not to penalize people looking for jobs – instead we need a stronger economy so that there are well-paying jobs in order to reduce SNAP participation.

YES, BUT THE PROGRAM'S SPENDING IS OUT OF CONTROL AND WE NEED TO CUTS SPENDING TO ADDRESS THE DEFICIT

What is so effective about SNAP is that it responds to economic downturns – providing a temporary cushion during tough economic times to ensure millions of Americans — including children, seniors and veterans – haven’t gone hungry during the downturn as families strive to get back on their feet. SNAP costs shrink as the economy improves and people can put food on their own table again, and the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predicts that SNAP spending as percentage of GDP will fall to 1995 levels by 2019. Ultimately, our long-term deficits won't be solved by slashing SNAP.

Fundamentally, I believe that we cannot balance the budget on the backs of our most vulnerable. Previous bipartisan deficit-reduction packages have exempted SNAP from cuts in recognition of this critical safety net program to the millions of struggling Americans it serves. By fighting hunger, we are investing in our future economy by making sure children are healthy and not hungry at school.

So, here is my request: can you talk to your boss and ask him to weigh in directly with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow and Ranking Member Thad Cochran, telling them to protect SNAP in any new Farm Bill or other legislation?

WELL, WE'VE BEEN FOLLOWING THE FARM BILL AND WAITING TO SEE WHAT THEY PRODUCE. FOR A VOLUNTEER YOU SEEM TO KNOW ABOUT THIS PROGRAM. I WILL TAKE THIS BACK TO THE SENATOR.

Great, when will you be able to talk to her?

WE HAVE AN ALL-STAFF POLICY MEETING ON TUESDAY AND I KNOW WE'LL DISCUSS THE FARM BILL AND THE OVERALL BUDGET SITUATION.

Okay. Can I schedule a time to give you a ring on Wednesday morning?

SURE, RIGHT AT 9:30 WORKS.

Perfect. I'll call you then. Thank you for your time and your work to follow these policy issues.


As a reminder, this was just an example of a conversation. If you have real expertise to share – especially as a former or current SNAP participant, definitely share that in your conversations.

What Is a Laser Talk?

A laser talk serves as a useful starting point for your advocacy work, whether as a talking points during a town hall meeting or as a primer for face-to-face meetings with candidates and elected officials. Follow up with more information and evidence supporting your points. And of course, adapt a laser talk to reflect your own experiences and why you care about the issue! For more on how to create your own laser talk, see the RESULTS Activist Toolkit: Create and Deliver Your EPIC Laser Talk.