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Five things you probably didn’t know about Food Stamps

Robert F. Kennedy on his visit to the Mississippi Delta in 1967 (USA Today).

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, has been targeted with unprecedented cuts in the 2018 federal budget proposed by President Trump. The cuts would shift 25% of SNAP benefit costs to the states, amounting to an estimated $419 million in Nebraska over 10 years. As Congress begins to work in its version of the federal budget for the upcoming year, we thought it would be useful to share a few things that you might not know about this complex, but important, source of support for low-income and vulnerable Nebraskans.

  1. In 1967, a group of U.S. Senators visited the Mississippi Delta to assess progress in the War on Poverty. What the group witnessed was shocking—levels of starvation and hunger-related illness among children that resembled third-world countries. The visit spurred significant reforms that started the transformation of the existing Food Stamp program to the model that we have today.
  2. Half of all SNAP recipients in Nebraska are children. This is about 18% of all children in the state, or 87,000 Nebraska children. Hunger remains a serious issue for kids in our state: last year, there were 92,000 Nebraska children who were food insecure. That’s several thousand more than the current capacity of the Husker Memorial Stadium.
  3. Together with children, the elderly and those with disabilities make up over two-thirds of SNAP recipients. The remaining participating households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult are already working—SNAP helps make ends meet for low-income families until their financial circumstances improve.
  4. The current funding structure of SNAP allows states to respond swiftly to economic and environmental crises, and the program shrinks when needs recede. During the Great Recession, SNAP was crucial in assisting struggling families and boosting a weak economy. Just this week, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services announced that SNAP recipients in the Panhandle and parts of eastern Nebraska are eligible for replacement benefits due to the electrical outages caused by devastating tornadoes and severe storms. Proposals that call for cuts or caps to the program would severely limit such a response to increased need.
  5. Nearly 93% of federal SNAP funds goes towards food purchases, and the program currently reports an all-time low error rate and the best accuracy records of any federal benefit program. The program is extremely efficient, and has lifted an estimated 34,000 Nebraskans above the poverty line. Still, benefits are modest and have not kept up with rising food prices. The average monthly benefit for a household in Nebraska in 2015 was $258.41.

A team of physicians followed the U.S. Senators to study and document the horrifying conditions that had been observed, and they returned a decade later, finding significant reductions in child hunger and related health conditions in the area. They concluded that the Food Stamp program was the driving force behind this progress, alongside other federal anti-poverty programs like Head Start and school meals.

Fifty years later, the country is faced with a budget proposal that calls for the decimation of SNAP and other key programs that support our most vulnerable children. But the budget is not just wonky fiscal policy—it’s a moral document about our priorities as a nation, and our collective vision for our future. Robert Greenstein, in his commentary today asks this question: “Will we capitalize on the impressive successes of recent decades and maintain our national, bipartisan commitment to combating hunger—or will we turn the clock back?”

Join us TODAY in asking Nebraska’s federal delegation: “Will you will turn the clock back on child hunger?

Sen. Fischer: (202) 224-6551
Sen. Sasse: (202) 224-4224

Rep. Fortenberry (District 1): (202) 225-4806
Rep. Bacon (District 2): (202) 225-4155
Rep. Smith (District 3): (202) 225-6435

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