What’s for dinner? Families on food stamps may say ‘nothing’

Michiganders are feeling the sting of a slow economic recovery — especially throughout Greater Detroit — and the lingering effects of the Great Recession are hitting families each night around the dinner table. As unemployment in Michigan continues to eclipse the majority of states at 9 percent, now is not the time to cut safety-net benefits that help individuals and families climb out of poverty.

Unfortunately, some lawmakers are seemingly ignoring the reality facing our families.

Recently, recipients of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (known as food stamps) experienced steep cuts in their monthly allocation – totaling $432 annually – when the funding boost provided by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 came to an end on Nov. 1.

To make matters worse, the U.S. House of Representatives wants to cut up to an additional $40 billion from the food stamp program as part of the pending Farm Bill.

This isn’t just irresponsible to our most vulnerable population right now; it’s dangerous to the long-term recovery of our economy.

More than 750,000 individuals in the United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s service area (Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties) receive SNAP benefits. Nearly half of those people are children.

Countless studies correlate adequate access to food and nutrition to test scores: Children who don’t have access to healthy meals don’t perform as well in school as children who have food. When kids start failing classes, they drop out of school. When kids drop out of school, we pay for it.

Consider this: If every student in the class of 2011 had graduated, the U.S. economy would’ve benefited $145 billion over the course of their lifetimes, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.

We can no longer afford dropouts. But there is a partial solution in SNAP.

We at United Way for Southeastern Michigan believe that, together, we can move the region toward more prosperous times by focusing our energies on producing the most college and career-ready students in the country. This means that we should be doing everything in our power to set our kids up for success. That begins by making sure their nutritional needs are met so they can concentrate on doing their best in school.

United Way for Southeastern Michigan, the lead partner for Michigan No Kid Hungry, is on a mission to ensure all children have access to healthy, nutritious meals.

I’ve often heard the argument that it’s the parents’ responsibility to feed their children, and by giving people “welfare” assistance, we are just rewarding laziness. It’s simply not true. The majority of individuals receiving SNAP are children, the elderly and people with disabilities. Nearly half of families receiving SNAP benefits also have one employed family member. But unfortunately, having a job doesn’t necessarily make a family stable. Moms and dads often have to choose between keeping on the lights and keeping the refrigerator full.

But perhaps a more commonly overlooked fact is that every month when people spend SNAP benefits to buy groceries, they actually put money directly back into our economy.

Moody’s Analytics estimates that in a weak economy, every $1 spent on SNAP benefits generates $1.70 in economic activity. The Congressional Budget Office says raising SNAP benefits as one of the “most cost-effective of all spending and tax options it examined for boosting growth and jobs in a weak economy.”

For the sake of Michigan, I urge lawmakers to do the right thing for constituents and fully support the SNAP program. Food assistance is not simply charity. It’s an investment in our kids and the future of our community.

Michael J. Brennan is president and CEO of United Way for Southeastern Michigan, an organization dedicated to improving lives and communities across Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties each day.

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Thu, 11/14/2013 - 12:43pm
"steep cuts"? steep adj. inclined like the easiest runs at Mt. Holly
Sun, 11/17/2013 - 2:17pm
Read the Cato Institute study on the food stamp program. (cato.org). Year 2000: 17 million recipients, cost was $18 billion. Today: 48 million recipients, cost is $78 billion/year. There was a steep increase in benefits as part of the federal stimulus program. That was not supposed to be a permanent increase. Now, of course, as rational people want to scale the program back to pre-stimulus levels, liberals cry "you're slashing benefits." This is why the program never should have been increased as a stimulus. That was a ruse to get a permanent increase in welfare. Mr. Brennan has bought into the ruse.
Tue, 11/19/2013 - 6:36am
Rational people see hunger as a situation Our government needs to know this is not going to fix its self