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In Political Campaigns, Attacking Nutrition Programs Helps No One

120130-politicsSNAP
Photo by Flickr user DonkeyHotey

With the ongoing presidential primaries, the media has given a lot of attention to remarks by some candidates disparaging the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). Yet, opinion polls and data continue to show that this line of attack is neither reflective of voter sentiment, nor factually accurate. Instead, candidates who want to improve the country should tell voters how they plan on ending hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world.

A new poll from the Food Research and Action Center asked voters about cutting SNAP to reduce federal deficits. The results were much like the survey on poverty discussed by my colleague Amelia. Here are some of the key findings that we, as activists for hungry families, can take heart in:

  • 72 percent, nearly three in four, of voters say SNAP is important to the country.
  • 77 percent reject the idea of cutting SNAP to reduce government spending as some candidates are proposing.
  • One in every two voters is less likely to vote for a candidate who wants to cut SNAP while only 9 percent would be more likely.
  • Opposing cuts to SNAP is not a partisan issue. Republicans, Independents and Democrats all support this crucial program with large majorities.

Clearly candidates who want to attract this sizable group of voters should oppose cuts to SNAP instead of attacking the program and its beneficiaries.

Candidates who oppose important safety net programs are not only hurting their electoral chances, they’re also misleading themselves. The facts are clear: SNAP is one of the most efficient safety net programs out there. The recession has forced many families to seek help buying food, yet despite rising caseloads, SNAP has continued to see lower error rates every year, dropping to a record 3 percent in 2010. While some are quick to draw upon stereotypes of government bureaucracy, it turns out that 95 percent of money spent on the program goes right to its recipients. It would be very hard to cut the program without cutting benefits or kicking families off.

Politicians who talk trash about SNAP make the false assumption that it has something to do with the country’s rising deficits. It does not. SNAP has certainly added millions of cases in the past couple years, but that means the program is working exactly how it should! It helps the millions of families forced into poverty during the recession. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the program’s participation level will go back to pre-recession levels by 2021, as the economy improves. Candidates looking to balance the budget need to look elsewhere. Readers of the Bread Blog may have seen this chart before, but it’s an important reminder of the true cause of rising deficits:

 SNAPchart

Candidates often talk about making our country better. Wouldn’t that include addressing poverty? The polls show that Americans are compassionate and understand that the path to ending hunger includes a strong safety net. The data shows that SNAP is not the cause of the deficit. It is, however, the most effective tool we have for helping families that struggle to put food on the table. Candidates need to hear this from voters: Why are you launching these unfair attacks on SNAP and the struggling families who rely on it?  

Ben-d'avanzoBen D'Avanzo is Mimi Meehan Fellow at Bread for the World.

 

 

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