Food stamp users are at the mercy of Congress this holiday

This week, families in the South Sound and all across Washington will go shopping, prepare food and give thanks for what they have.

Ours is a state blessed with an abundance of food; our orchards and fields rival any in the world. Yet in the midst of our wealth, we find hunger.

During this Thanksgiving season, we know many of our clients have food stamps to thank for ensuring they have food on the table. Food stamps are our primary weapon in the fight against hunger. Even so, the food benefits for most families with food stamps were all used up a week before Thanksgiving.

As too many Americans consider their empty plates and exhausted benefits, members of Congress will continue to debate a farm bill. Tragically, both the House and Senate versions cut food stamps, making the idea of thanksgiving that much harder for 1.1 million Washingtonians who use food stamps when they go grocery shopping.

The House farm bill cut $40 billion over 10 years; the Senate version cut $4.1 billion — this on top of the $11 billion cuts in SNAP benefits already enacted on Nov. 1. In the 15th hungriest state in the nation, both these versions are thankless: we urge our congressional delegation to make our hungry neighbors their priority and oppose cuts to SNAP.

Sherlie, a food bank client in Tacoma, said “I use the FISH Food Bank to help with food supplements. My food stamps were cut, and we are struggling to just get a loaf of bread sometimes. I am finding grocery shopping hard when trying to get all the food my family needs. How are we going to eat?”

Denying basic nutrition assistance to struggling families goes against Washington’s values, like giving children the best start possible in life and caring for our neighbors in need. The House version of the farm bill would end benefits for an entire family if a parent is not working at least 20 hours per week, even if her/his child is only 1 year old and even if unemployment remains high.

It’s not enough that these provisions would cut off food stamps for families; it also would mean thousands of children will lose free school meals, too. The bill also would deny SNAP to millions of poor, jobless adults without children — including veterans who struggle to find work after fighting two wars.

SNAP has proven to be effective at reducing poverty. Nearly 4 million people rose out of poverty because of SNAP in 2012, of whom 1.67 million were children.

Investments in reducing hunger have also proven to have a positive impact on the economy. Every $1 spent on nutrition assistance results in $1.70 in local economic activity.

As many of us give thanks for all we have, we won’t forget those have so little. We urge Congress to protect what decades of bipartisanship built: an effective, efficient, responsive food stamp program that ensures that, even when times are hard, no one has to go hungry.

Roberta Marsh is executive director of South Sound Outreach Services. Beth Elliott is executive director of FISH Food Banks.