Farm bill makes ‘significant’ cuts to food stamp program
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There’s a common misperception about the people who benefit from food stamps, says researcher Angela Odoms-Young.
More than 75 percent of households receiving assistance from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are seniors, people with disabilities, or working adults who have children and are trying to make ends meet.
“The purpose of SNAP is really to ensure that all Americans have access to an adequate diet,” said Odoms-Young, assistant professor of kinesiology and nutrition.
“A lot of people think it’s for people who don’t want to work and that’s not an accurate picture. Many SNAP recipients work, and others who are unemployed are casualties of what’s been happening in our economy.”
But the people who benefit from the program will soon receive less aid, she said.
The federal farm bill, signed by President Obama Friday, cut the nation’s food stamp program by about $800 million a year. The cuts reduce the monthly food stamp benefit by an average of $90 a month for about 1.5 million people across the country.
The average food stamp benefit is currently about $134 per person per month, which amounts to less than $1.50 per person per meal, Odoms-Young said.
“The cuts that we are going to see are going to be significant,” she said.
“SNAP is there for all of us to use when we need it, and we don’t know if we’re going to become that person who needs it.”
Having fewer dollars to spend on food will likely mean that families won’t have nutrition on their minds when they shop, Odoms-Young said.
“Low-income families are already disproportionately at risk for obesity,” she said. “People turn to cheap, energy-dense, highly processed foods, which are cheaper than healthier foods.”
With the decrease in food stamp benefits, people will likely turn to emergency food sources such as food pantries or soup kitchens, Odoms-Young said. The farm bill did not cut funding for emergency food sources, but an influx of people needing help would put stress on nonprofit food agencies.
“They won’t be able to meet the gap that’s going to need to be met when it comes to SNAP cuts,” she said.
Individuals aren’t the only ones affected by the farm bill provisions — the cuts will have a larger impact on the economy, Odoms-Young said, because every $5 in food stamp benefits generates as much as $9 in economic activity.
“Everybody benefits — agriculture, food processing, warehouse and transportation, and manufacturing and service industries,” she said.
Families who receive food stamps can also benefit from other federal and state programs, such as the National School Lunch Program, which provides healthy meals to schoolchildren, and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which provides food, education and medical referrals for mothers and children younger than 5.
Odoms-Young is working with the Illinois Department of Human Services to implement a program in Illinois called WIC to 5, which aims to retain participants in the Women, Infants and Children program for the duration of their eligibility.
“It’s really important, given the SNAP cuts, that people know about their eligibility,” she said.