From the Negotiating Table to the Dinner Table
In November, many struggling Americans will find it even more difficult to put food on the table as they face the expiration of a temporary increase in food stamp benefits. Congress is negotiating a farm bill that would make even deeper cuts to the vital nutrition assistance program (movie still from A Place at the Table, courtesy of Participant Media).
This week brings Halloween and the arrival of November. The fall season includes a number of holidays that center on food for Americans. But for many people, Friday will bring new hardship and worry. On Nov. 1, a temporary increase in food stamp benefits will expire, making it more difficult for 47 million people to put food on the table. A family of four could see its benefit decrease by as much as $36 per month.
“Thirty-six dollars a month may not seem like much, but if you are a family of four with an income of $22,000 per year, $36 means several missed meals or increased difficulty in providing for one's children,” writes Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, in a piece on the Huffington Post Politics Blog. “And if this $11 billion reduction isn't devastating enough, members of the House and Senate have begun to finalize a farm bill that will impact vital anti-hunger programs.”
Today, 41 lawmakers will meet with the goal of merging two versions of the farm bill—one that proposes a nearly $40 billion cut to SNAP over 10 years, and another that includes a $4.1 billion cut. If any of your members of Congress are sitting at the negotiating table, you have an opportunity to influence their decisions and urge them to protect the nation’s number-one defense against hunger from deeper cuts. As food prices increase and benefits decrease, more families will likely find themselves in need of charitable food donations earlier in the month, but any cuts to nutrition assistance will leave a hunger gap that cannot be closed by churches, pantries, or food banks.
The staff and volunteers at Oregon Food Bank are concerned about cuts to SNAP and made sure that one member at the conference table–Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.)–knows they can’t fill the gap. In a recent op-ed, Oregon Food Bank CEO Susannah Morgan and board member Lisa Sedlar point out that deep cuts to food stamps would increase hunger for 100,000 Oregonians. "[T]he total meals lost in Oregon would be equivalent to the entire statewide food bank network shutting its doors for more than five years," they write in the article.
It's also important to remember that there are real people behind these cuts. The Orlando Sentinel reports that Floridian Robin Petersen, who works full time, can't afford to put enough food on her family’s table without nutrition benefits. “If I didn't get food stamps, we'd be at the food pantries every week," Peterson says in the piece. In the same article, hunger relief organization Second Harvest reports that food distribution in the area has already increased by 34 percent in the last six months.
In addition to debating cuts to food stamps, members of the committee must also make choices about international food aid. Beckmann says we must hold members of Congress accountable for their actions. “Any policies that create additional poverty among the working poor, or further impoverish hungry people around the world, are reprehensible,” Beckmann wrote in the Huffington Post piece.
On Friday, the first day of a month in which we celebrate bounty with a national feast, it is disheartening to think that some Americans will be have much less food on their tables when they gather to give thanks this year.
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