San Francisco Chronicle Op-ed: Food Banks can't make up for food stamp benefit cuts
Reposted from the San Francisco Chronicle
Open Forum editorial page, Section A
Written by Paul Ash, Executive Director, San Francisco and Marin Food Banks
Article originally published Nov. 18, 2013
View the original story here >>
As of Nov. 1, a retired San Francisco clerk named Lionel Hill saw his federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit, more commonly known as food stamps, reduced by $20 a month. He is afraid he'll have to buy less and lower quality food for his 7-year-old nephew, who he is raising as his own. Unfortunately, Lionel's troubles are far from over - Nov. 1 was merely a preview of the cuts to come.
Congress is debating whether to cut the food assistance program by $40 billion in the House or $5 billion in the Senate over the next 10 years. The conferees will haggle over the program as if it is a used car rather than treating it as the life-affirming link to food that it is for millions. The public should know that Congress is voting for its constituents to go hungry - this debate is over how hungry.
People ask me what effect the cuts will have on the San Francisco and Marin Food Banks, thinking that our core programs are supported by the federal Farm Bill. These cuts won't affect the food bank a bit - except that thousands of families who rely on food stamps will turn to us when they have $80 or $90 or $100 less each month to buy food.
The State of California knows what will happen at the Food Bank. On a webpage for people who have had their benefits reduced, the California Department of Social Services suggests people contact their nearest food bank for help. The truth is, non-profits can't make up the difference.
The number of meals cut through the Nov. 1 reduction and the proposed $40 billion in cuts exceeds all the meals provided by food banks in the country, combined. In other words, every food bank would have to double the amount of food they distribute just to make up the loss.
Nationally, the House legislation would cause at least 4 million people to lose their food assistance benefits entirely, another 850,000 households to lose an average $90 per month in benefits, and cause 210,000 children to lose free school meals.
The federal program provides modest benefits to eligible, vulnerable populations. Ninety percent of SNAP benefit dollars spent go to assist the elderly, seriously disabled or members of working households. Of the households receiving SNAP benefits in San Francisco, almost half include children. SNAP also has one of the most rigorous quality control systems of any public benefit program, with an error rate of 3 percent - an all-time low.
If recipients were young enough or well enough to work or their skills matched San Francisco's labor market, they would be working. People will have less to eat, less to feed their children. What they do eat will be cheaper and less nutritious.
The view from the Food Bank is that we don't have the resources to double - especially if this is just the beginning of backfilling government cuts. Our donors show no signs of doubling their giving, so as a community, we can raise our voice in protest now, or prepare to watch our neighbors go without enough to eat.
It's easy to pass off what goes on in Washington as senseless, unwise, irrational or out of our control. But it's more useful to be shouting as loud as we can - through our representatives, to the conferees who will cast the votes and to the White House - that this is not acceptable.
Paul Ash is the Executive Director of the San Francisco and Marin Food Banks.