It’s time to strengthen, not cut the safety net

There has been a steep increase in hunger since the economic downturn began in 2008.

More than 600,000 Minnesota moms, dads, grandparents and children are missing at least 10 meals a month due to lack of funds. Those numbers fan out in different ways.

More people are visiting food shelves, more children are enrolled in free or reduced breakfast and lunch programs at school, there is a greater need for Meals on Wheels, and more Minnesotans are enrolling in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, otherwise known as food stamps.

No part of the state is immune from food insecurity. In fact, visits to food shelves have had record increases. In 2011, children were 40 percent of visits to Minnesota food shelves—nearly 1.3 million child visits overall. The loss of income for the middle class has created a surge of new clients. Food shelves have stepped up to meet this need, but resources are strained.

Charities, such as, food shelves and meal programs, provide less than ten percent of support needed to hungry Minnesotans.

Fortunately, there is a lifeline: SNAP benefits.

SNAP is our government’s commitment that no one should go hungry in America.

Because of SNAP, more than a half million Minnesotans have been able to stay above the poverty line. Minnesota experienced a 56 percent increase in SNAP enrollment from 2007-2010. The state also witnessed an unprecedented 18 percent increase in senior food support enrollment during the past year.

The SNAP program provides supplemental purchasing power at the grocery store for low-income families and seniors.

The average monthly benefit for a senior in Minnesota is $76, and $234 for a family household. SNAP provides relief for 6-8 months, on average.

Every five years, Congress reauthorizes the Farm Bill, a comprehensive piece of legislation that includes, among other items, SNAP/Food Stamps. This year, the Farm Bill is up for reauthorization. In advance of the renewal, Congressional attacks on SNAP/Food Stamps are increasing – both in the form of structural changes and/or devastating cuts.

This well-run federal program sends millions of dollars into our community to help individuals, families, and seniors to alleviate hunger, and prevent nutrition related health concerns. This infusion of federal funding is also an economic stimulus for businesses of all kinds from farmers to the small town grocer.

SNAP was designed to eliminate deep poverty and malnutrition, and has helped to sustain children, families, and seniors in times of desperation for more than four decades. There has never been a greater need for SNAP, and the program’s continued funding will be critical for our most vulnerable citizens.

We strongly oppose proposals to cap or reduce funding, restrict eligibility or reduce benefits in the program. This is the time to strengthen, not weaken, our nation’s nutrition safety net. — Jill Hiebert on behalf of  the Hunger Solutions Minnesota Board of Directors (Editor’s note: Hunger Solutions Minnesota operates the Minnesota Food HelpLine. We guide people through eligibility screening and the SNAP application process. Hunger Solutions Minnesota encourages all income- eligible people to enroll. If you earn less than $1,498 a month, give us a call at the Minnesota Food HelpLine: 1-888-711-1151.)