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Guest column: Congress poised to play 'Scrooge' on food aid to needy Michigan families

By Terri Stangl/Center for Civil Justice

With Thanksgiving behind us, people throughout the country are caught up in the mad rush to discover the perfect treasures for their loved ones at the most discounted prices. But deep discounts don’t matter to those who have so little they can’t even buy food. And that’s the case for millions of people in Michigan – our neighbors, the couple down the street, the single mother next door – they don’t have enough money to pay for food, let alone gifts.

The Center for Civil Justice’s statewide Food and Nutrition Program Helpline receives many calls each month from people who confess that they never thought they’d need help, but they have no more savings and are out of food. Last year, in a survey of Michigan households, nearly one in five said they didn’t always have enough money for food. The food budget in such households is sacrificed to pay for housing, heat and water, transportation, medical care, and childcare so parents can get to work.

That’s why the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps and now called the Food Assistance Program in Michigan, is so important. More than 18 percent of Michigan households receive benefits. The program puts food on the table for those who would otherwise go without.

The program is heavily monitored, error rates are low, and fraud is aggressively prosecuted. So, it seems shocking that Congress is currently debating cuts to a successful program that – by design – can only be spent on a basic human need: food.

These proposed cuts come at a time when program participation has grown due to greater awareness of the program and continued high unemployment. Yet both the House and Senate have proposed cuts to the program as part of the Farm Bill.

Over the next 10 years, the House Agriculture Committee bill would cut $16 billion from SNAP; the Senate version would cut $4.5 billion. The proposed cuts would take food out of the mouths of those who need it most – our children, senior citizens who have to choose between medicine or food, single mothers who work several jobs to survive, and people struggling to find work in this tough economy.

In 2010, SNAP lifted 3.9 million Americans’ total income above the poverty line. A recent study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that having access to food stamps in early childhood has a positive effect on adults years later, including better health and economic self-sufficiency.

One in four Michigan children now live in poverty; cuts to a program that helps more than three-quarters of a million Michigan children (42 percent of all recipients in the state) is a disinvestment in our own future.

The proposed cuts in SNAP are unconscionable and would only aggravate the despair and difficulties experienced by low-income people – leaving them without the help they need – and deserve – to survive. SNAP only provides people with up to $2.22 per meal. In Michigan, households receive an average of only $267 per month. Why are our legislators looking to take away the tiny bit of help and humanity given to millions of low-income people? Congress is picking on the vulnerable people least able to impact the national debate. SNAP is paid with federal funds that are spent at local Michigan grocers employing Michigan workers.

It is important for those of us who do have enough to eat to speak out against these kinds of cuts. And Congress must reject attempts to balance the budget and preserve tax benefits for the wealthiest by taking food from the tables of those with the least.

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Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact David Zeman. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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