May 22, 2013

Our View: With hunger growing, not time to cut SNAP

Both versions of the federal farm bill would cut assistance for people who really need it.

Too many Americans don't have enough to eat, but the big debate in Washington seems to be how much to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

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Volunteers at Trinity Lutheran Church in Westbrook scoop a soy product to be packaged will other food for families who face hunger.

Press Herald 2012 file photo

Senate and House committees have passed their own versions of a new farm bill. The Senate would cut SNAP (which used to be known as food stamps) by $4 billion over the next decade. The House version would cut it by $20 billion.

Given the choice between the two, we prefer the Senate's version, although we are skeptical of the claim by its sponsor Sen. Debbie Stabenow D-Minn. that it would only reduce "waste, fraud and abuse."

But why should there be any cut at all? The evidence shows that hunger is becoming a bigger problem, not that it's going away.

Hunger now touches 50 million Americans, or one in six. For children, it's one in five.

Bad nutrition in the first three years of life can result in permanent health and developmental problems. Hungry children don't do well in school.

Hungry adults are more likely to be sick, miss work and fail to take care of their families.

And the ultimate tragedy is that it doesn't have to be this way. A bipartisan effort to end hunger in the 1960s and 1970s had a huge positive effect. Since federal nutrition support has been withdrawn beginning in the early 1980s, the number of families struggling to have enough of the right foods to eat has skyrocketed.

Both versions of the farm bill have some good news, especially for small farmers in Maine. In addition to billions of dollars in subsidies for commodity crops like wheat, soy and corn, there are programs like one that would help schools buy food from local farmers. But it's a shame to cut food assistance. Federal guidelines are already too strict for this program. People who think it's too generous should try feeding a family on $125 a week.

We should be finding ways to feed the 50 million, not pulling assistance away from those who need it. Congress should not pass a farm bill that makes the country hungrier.


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