The Cost of Being a Nation Willing to Let its Citizens Go Hungry

5 mins read

Feeding millions of Americans each year is not cheap, but what is the cost of being a nation willing to let its citizens go hungry? Once again, the Trump administration is seeking to cut down our social safety nets. This time by entertaining a change to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.). This program is meant to help struggling people have a fighting chance at meeting their basic needs. Here in Maryland about 627,000 people receive the program’s benefits each year, and if the current plan goes through, it could take food off tables in the homes of about 50,000 Marylanders. Contrary to the fallacious rumors which somehow still run rampant, no one is dining on fresh lobster and steak on our dime via SNAP. The rate of accuracy in the program is extremely high, at 96 percent, and the fraud rate within SNAP is very low, at less than 1 percent. Where else in the government do we see that kind of efficiency?

I am certain many individuals in the Trump administration wish that nutrition assistance was not necessary, but the fact of the matter is its need is dire. SNAP is an excellent program and the people receiving it are worthy. In spite of mean-spirited rumors, many families receiving SNAP benefits are working multiple jobs, and if not, there is a reason (issues with childcare, unmet mental health problems, medical needs, just to name a few) and they are not able to make ends meet. SNAP is our first and best line of defense against hunger in the United States. In 2015, 42 million people in the U.S. did not have enough to eat, but the program was able to feed many of them (70% of those being families with children and 25% being elderly or disabled individuals.)

One reason SNAP is continually targeted is its cost. In 2017, the program required $70 billion to function. However, to put that into context, we also spent $263 billion that year in interest on our national debt and before interest, the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act will cost us $1.5 trillion. Until we fix the vast inequities in our country which cause so many people to struggle, the very least we can do is have appropriate protections in place to catch people when they fall. SNAP is worth every penny we spend on it and should be protected. If the simple humane justification of helping others is not enough, look at how the program benefits the whole nation. First, for every $5 given out in SNAP benefits, $9 is generated in economic activity. Second, for every $1 billion spent on SNAP, approximately 13,000 jobs are created. Third, SNAP is a rare breed of high benefit and low waste, with 93% of costs going directly to food assistance. If it isn’t broken – and feeds millions of people while simultaneously pulling many out of poverty – don’t “fix” it.

Running our country – and ensuring the health of its citizens – is an expensive but necessary and worthwhile endeavor. If we can continue to provide welfare to companies like Amazon and Wal-Mart (which receive billions of dollars in federal subsidies and tax breaks, despite relying on public institutions like our infrastructure and the school systems which educate their workers), can’t we ensure that people have enough to eat? Allocating funds to non-essential causes while making it more difficult to receive benefits from a program as important as SNAP is unconscionable. Marylanders deserve better. Please join me in holding this administration accountable and then celebrating their efforts to keep food on the table in every American home. Many of us are just a paycheck or medical emergency away from relying on the compassion of others. I certainly hope that if and when I need a social safety net like SNAP, it’s still intact to help me. 

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