Letter to Farm Bill Conferees - Do Not Cut SNAP

Ahead of the first public meeting of the Senate and House 2013 Farm Bill conference committee members on Wednesday, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and 37 of their Senate colleagues urged the conferees to fight against harmful cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which were included in the House-passed bill. The senators also urged the negotiators to reject all eligibility changes that would prevent millions of families, children, and seniors facing a constant struggle against hunger from accessing nutritious food, and hundreds of thousands of low-income children from accessing free school meals. In 2012, 403,466 Connecticut residents received an average monthly SNAP benefit of $143.90.

Blumenthal said, "The House bill cutting $40 billion in SNAP funding is a disgrace. While it is important to cut unnecessary costs from SNAP and other important government programs, I oppose cuts to the food assistance program that deny struggling families, young children, and seniors access to healthy meals. We should keep faith with struggling families in America, including more than 400,000 Connecticut residents, by maintaining current levels of SNAP funding, and expanding food assistance in the state and across the country if needed."

Murphy said, "The truth of the food stamp program is this: it barely provides enough to keep the hunger pangs away for half the day, and the vast majority of people who use the program only need it temporarily. Any major cuts to this program, not to mention $40 billion in cuts as House Republicans propose, will negatively affect thousands of families across Connecticut who rely on SNAP benefits to keep their families from going hungry in these difficult economic times. There is no doubt that Congress needs to reduce spending, but balancing the budget on the backs of our nation's most vulnerable is foolish and irresponsible."

The 2013 Farm Bill conference committee members are working on a compromise between the two different pieces of legislation passed by the Senate and House earlier this year. In June, the Senate passed a Farm Bill which included $4.5 billion in cuts to the SNAP program while the House passed legislation last month with even steeper cuts, slashing $40 billion over 10 years.

The Senators wrote in a letter to Farm Bill Conference Committee Members, "While we support efforts to improve the integrity of the SNAP program, we encourage conferees to reject all SNAP eligibility changes designed to erect new barriers to participation, preventing millions of seniors, children and families from accessing food assistance. The eligibility changes also will mean an additional 280,000 children would lose free school meals because children in SNAP households are automatically eligible for school meals. Changes would also increase administrative costs by requiring states to re-determine eligibility for SNAP, even if a household was deemed eligible for other state and/or federal assistance programs… SNAP is a safety net program in the truest sense of the world; there is no other more fundamental human need than food. Please consider the needs of these struggling families, children, and senior citizens as you negotiate the final Farm Bill and the future of the SNAP program."

In addition to Blumenthal and Murphy, the letter was signed by the following senators: Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who led the group of senators who signed the letter and is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jack Reed (D-RI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Edward Markey (D-MA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Al Franken (D-MN), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Mark Begich (D-AK), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA), Mark Udall (D-CO), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Carl Levin (D-MI), Chris Coons (D-DE), Angus King (I-ME), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Jon Tester (D-MT), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), and Tim Johnson (D-SD).

Full text of the Senators' letter is below:

Dear Farm Bill Conferees,

We are writing to express our support for preventing harmful cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the Farm Bill. SNAP is our nation's first line of defense against hunger. SNAP provides essential nutrition benefits to working families, children, senior citizens, and disabled individuals in every state and town in our country. Every dollar in new SNAP benefits generates up to $1.79 in economic activity, of which approximately 16 cents goes back to the farmers.

While we support efforts to improve the integrity of the SNAP program, we encourage conferees to reject all SNAP eligibility changes designed to erect new barriers to participation, preventing millions of seniors, children and families from accessing food assistance. The eligibility changes also will mean an additional 280,000 children would lose free school meals because children in SNAP households are automatically eligible for school meals. Changes would also increase administrative costs by requiring states to re-determine eligibility for SNAP, even if a household was deemed eligible for other state and/or federal assistance programs.

SNAP plays a critical role at a stressful time in the life of families. It allows struggling families to put groceries on their tables when they face financial troubles. Benefits average less than $1.50 per individual, per meal, and within this limited budget they struggle to provide healthy, nutritious meals for themselves and their family. In fact half of SNAP participants entering the program are enrolled for 10 months or less.

Researchers estimate that half of all American children will receive SNAP at some point during childhood, and half of all adults will do so at some point between the ages of 20 and 65 years. Furthermore, SNAP recipients are diverse with regards to race-ethnicity, many have earned income, and the vast majority of SNAP households do not receive cash welfare benefits.

SNAP is a safety net program in the truest sense of the world; there is no other more fundamental human need than food. Please consider the needs of these struggling families, children, and senior citizens as you negotiate the final Farm Bill and the future of the SNAP program.