The now-perennial fight over benefits distracts policymakers and advocates from innovations that could make SNAP more effective. Congress should invest in promising local initiatives, like summer benefit increases to families with children, when hungry kids no longer get school meals, or “double-up” programs, which allow SNAP dollars to go twice as far when spent on fresh fruits or vegetables.
Additionally, retailers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture must release more information about where and how SNAP funds are spent, which would give researchers and advocates the tools they need to confront the relationship between hunger and obesity. Small municipalities should be given the latitude to pilot programs that limit SNAP spending on sodas so we can better understand how such changes impact health and enrollment rates.
Rather than booting hungry people off SNAP, we should be working to ensure that all those who are eligible for assistance can get it.
States like California create their own rules, which can in turn make getting help more difficult than it should be. State and local lawmakers must act to ensure that all Californians have a genuine opportunity to receive the food assistance for which they are eligible. That means streamlining the enrollment process and harnessing technology to link participation in other assistance programs like MediCal to SNAP enrollment.
We hear over and again that budgets mean tough choices. Through our work in communities, we know tough choices are already distressingly common for the most vulnerable among us. An elderly person chooses to make a can of chicken soup stretch for three days so she can afford a pair of eyeglasses. A mother chooses to tell her children, “I’m just not hungry tonight,” so that they will eat.
Even an $11 cut means those tough choices multiply, with lasting effects on their health and on our community. Imagine that times $39 billion.