Food Stamp Program: Hunger in the U.S. Is Real, and Food Stamps Help Fix It

This past December, Newark Mayor Cory Booker took the SNAP challenge: He subsisted on food stamps for a week in order to raise awareness about the struggles of Americans who buy food using federal assistance. The equivalent of a week’s worth of money from SNAP, also known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, provided Booker with roughly $33 to buy food for the week. While it may partly have been a publicity stunt, there’s no denying that Booker brought attention to the difficulties of buying food in the SNAP program, and the fact that many people around the world don't get enough to eat.

The first food-stamp program began in 1939 and reached approximately 20 million people over the span of four years. Today, SNAP assists over 47 million Americans. Yet although it’s clear that low-income families and individuals need the assistance of SNAP in order to survive, every Republican on the House Agricultural Committee voted to approve a $20 billion dollar cut in SNAP’s 10-year budget. In an age where millionaires can casually pay to send themselves into space, the fact that people are going hungry in the United States seems like a reality that should belong to the past.

Of course, hunger is an issue worldwide, a problem that needs addressing as well. But if we focus specifically on the U.S., a developed and relatively wealthy country, it feels like a very surprising step backwards when we as a country decide to cut back on something as fundamental as feeding those who cannot afford to feed themselves.

As would be logical, SNAP participation grew during the recent economic recession from 2007 to 2011. Accordingly, temporary increases for SNAP aid were included in the 2009 stimulus package. But those increases are slated to expire in November, resulting in a loss of about $25 a month for a family of four. The cut of the temporary increase comes in addition to the $20 billion cut just approved by the House Agricultural Committee.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research group based in Washington, indicated that the cuts to SNAP would eliminate two million people from the program, including many children and elderly people. Many children receive free school lunches, and with the new cuts several hundred thousand children would lose access to those free meals. As we clamber out of the recession into a post-recession economy, it seems patently unfair that low-income children should be the ones who should go without. At the very least, we can expand the free school lunch program, and make sure it includes meals that are healthy and nutritious.

No one living in the U.S. today — or the world today — should go hungry. For many people in the U.S., the issue of hunger isn’t something that’s generally thought about as extremely prevalent or pressing, yet one in six Americans face hunger. Eight hundred and seventy million people in the world do not get enough to eat. It’s time to work to eliminate hunger on a national and global scale.