A familiar and dispiriting debate is playing out in Washington this spring, as our government once again tries to do more with less. 

Congressional leaders concerned about our nation’s fiscal health want to re-balance our books. But instead of addressing inequities in our tax system or reviewing our government’s biggest costs, they are proposing cuts to programs that help poor people feed and care for their families.  

It’s not surprising. When conversations about taxes and major spending are taken off the table, what does that leave? Safety net programs like SNAP and Medicaid are among the next largest targets, and while these programs enjoy broad public support, they are frequently treated like ATM machines on Capitol Hill. 

SNAP especially rose in prominence during the COVID recession. Huge lines at food banks demonstrated a clear need for more food, and the additional assistance provided by a bipartisan Congress did the heavy lifting to make sure hunger didn’t spike when our economy cratered. 

Studies have since shown that this SNAP boost reduced food hardship and stress, insulated children from hunger and buoyed local (and especially rural) economies.

But instead of celebrating a clear success, some have decided that SNAP is part of the problem. A group of Congress Members is now calling to shrink the program by “tens of billions” of dollars, primarily by subjecting more participants to burdensome work requirements. The hope is that some folks will work their way off the rolls, while others will fail to meet the requirements and be cut off, reducing SNAP’s overall cost. 

SNAP already has strict work requirements, and most participants who can work, do. More than two-thirds of Americans participating in SNAP are children, seniors, or people with disabilities who are not expected to work. Of those remaining, 74 percent are employed within a year of receiving SNAP. 

Far from being a disincentive to work, SNAP is effectively an income supplement for these millions of Americans whose wages aren’t keeping up with the rising cost of living. In contrast, cutting off food assistance when someone struggles to find work accomplishes nothing. 

The new proposals would hit Texas especially hard. 385,000 Texans participating in SNAP – primarily adults nearing retirement and parents of school-aged children – would be subjected to these onerous requirements. And 855,000 Texans, a quarter of all SNAP participants in the state, could lose benefits, including 425,000 children.

Instead of balancing budgets on the backs of these struggling families, Congress needs to swallow a hard truth: doing less won’t achieve more. Reducing assistance won’t produce better outcomes. Taking away people’s groceries will never reduce poverty. 

If lawmakers are serious about helping SNAP families achieve economic security, they could remove program barriers that penalize them for owning a reliable car or going back to college to re-skill. To help working-age participants with serious barriers to employment, they could make meaningful investments in training programs that address these challenges. 

SNAP is a solution, not a problem. We must continue the bipartisan tradition of providing for all of our neighbors in need if we expect it to remain one. 

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was jointly penned by Celia Cole, CEO of Feeding Texas and  Libby Saenz, Co-CEO of Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the authors. The authors can be reached by email via: [email protected]

Editor’s Note: In the main image accompanying the above guest column, Libby Saenz is pictured on the left and Celia Cole on the right.

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