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We can’t feed the hungry without SNAP

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We can’t feed the hungry without SNAP

Sep 27, 2023 | 7:00 am ET
By Zach Rodvold
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We can’t feed the hungry without SNAP
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Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images.

Minnesotans not experiencing food insecurity may be surprised to learn that hunger rates are at an all-time high, having matched and, in some instances, surpassed even peak pandemic levels. Food shelf visits continue to increase as more Minnesotans struggle to afford still-high grocery prices on top of rising energy, gas and housing costs. This combined with the ending of pandemic-era state and federal financial assistance has brought the much feared ‘hunger cliff’ right to our doorstep.

More can be done at the state level to strengthen our emergency food system while working toward a future where fewer Minnesotans rely on it in the first place. At the federal level, with adeadline to reauthorize a new five-year Farm Bill fast approaching, our focus is on protecting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, from further cuts, restrictions and other efforts to weaken what is the most effective anti-hunger program in our country’s history.

For every meal that food banks like Second Harvest Heartland provide, SNAP provides nine. That is why we recently launched our first-ever paid advocacy campaign in support of the program, and it’s why we have invested in SNAP outreach, helping eligible neighbors navigate the complex application process and successfully enroll for benefits,increasing so-called take-up rates for this life-saving program. 

Without SNAP, even more Minnesotans would depend on our state’s network of food shelves to eat, further stressing a system that is already operating at or even beyond full capacity and depriving local retailers of the spending that SNAP generates in their communities.

What does all this have to do with the Farm Bill? While this legislation does include important funding for farmers, ranchers and other producers, over 80% of the bill is dedicated to federal food assistance programs, with SNAP accounting for the vast majority of that spending. The program dates to the Great Depression, when Congress first created the “Federal Surplus Relief Corporation” to assist both struggling farmers and hungryAmericans by purchasing farm commodities and distributing them directly to hunger relief agencies. In 1939, this was revamped as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal and became known as the “Food Stamps Plan” — literally orange and blue stamps used to purchase basic necessities. After undergoing many changes, it was eventually renamed as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in the 2008 Farm Bill, and it now serves more than 41 million Americans per year.

Given the enormous reach of this highly-effective anti-hunger program, we are alarmed by calls from some on the political extremes who want to see SNAP significantly cut or even eliminated in the name of deficit reduction — a foolish economic proposition, as I pointed out with some interest on the site formerly known as Twitter.

This would be especially devastating for greater Minnesota, home to nine of the 10 counties with the state’s highest poverty rates. . More than half of Minnesota’s SNAP participants live in greater Minnesota, despite accounting for less than half of the state’s total population. Given the stress local economies in greater Minnesota are facing due in part to declining populations, SNAP dollars also generate more economic activity in those communities than anywhere else, returning an estimated $2 for every $1 spent. Which means further restrictions or cuts would hurt Minnesotans facing food insecurity while also harming local economies. It’s a lose-lose proposition.

In our view, the conversation around further restrictions (sometimes referred to as “work requirements”) was settled in the debt deal agreed to and passed earlier this summer. Congress must now focus on passing a Farm Bill that provides an adequate safety net for both those who produce our food and those who can’t otherwise afford to eat it. That is why we are calling on our state’s Agriculture Committee delegation – both U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, as well as U.S. Reps.  Angie Craig and Brad Finstad, who chairs the crucial Nutrition Subcommittee in the House — to oppose any effort to further limit participation by eligible Minnesotans in the SNAP program. 

We are already operating around the clock to source and distribute food to a network of more than 1,500 food shelves and program partners, the majority of whom are already maxed out due to record demand — and this is before accounting for the potentially devastating impact of a federal government shutdown in the coming days or weeks. We literally cannot afford to do more — which means such cuts would have a devastating impact on our state, especially communities throughout greater Minnesota. 

Instead, let’s work to end hunger, together.

To learn more, please visit 2harvest.org/action