Local students write to legislative officials for food stamp support


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In the wake of election season, some students at the University of Iowa are looking for ways to maintain funding for what they call “a basic human right”: access to food.

Wednesday afternoon, the UI interfaith group invited students to sign letters to Iowa’s congressional representatives, urging them to not cut food-stamp program funding.

“We’re giving students the chance to fill out letters to share their beliefs [about food stamps],” said Michael Goldberg, a member of the interfaith leadership team. “All we’re trying to do is make sure some people have access to food; it’s a basic human right.”

The food-stamps program is known as the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition  Assistance Program).
Statewide, 412,187 Iowans received assistance in July 2012. In Johnson County, 8,816 residents received assistance from the SNAP program in 2009.

The letters — which included a typed statement from the group and a line to leave one’s signature and address, could be addressed to U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, or Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa.

UI senior Ryan Brunner, who signed a letter supporting the continuation of the food-stamps program, said he believes if people have the means to pay for food, they should help others who are struggling.

“The food-stamps program provides an opportunity to help those who can’t afford to sustain their own living,” he said. “It’s important for everyone who has the means, to help those who don’t.”

Although there are no current plans to cut SNAP or decrease funding, the interfaith group is concerned when the Senate comes back into session, it will try to make cuts to the farm bill, which includes SNAP in its funding.

“The reason we’re doing it now is because it’s a lame duck period,” said Megan Henson, a member of the interfaith leadership team, said. “They’re not working right now, but then they come in and sometimes they do this stuff [cut funding for food-stamps] sneakily.”

Both Harkin and Loebsack support continued funding for SNAP, and they said they believe in the importance of providing food for all American families.

“As someone who was raised in poverty and whose family relied on food stamps to put food on the table, Dave knows the importance of the program to Iowa families and will work to improve the safety net and make common-sense reforms,” Joe Hand, Loebsack’s spokesman, wrote in an email.

Harkin said all Americans should have the access to a “sufficient and healthy diet” and food assistance programs can play a role in that. He has chaired the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, as well as playing a key role in pushing to enact the 2002 and 2008 farm bills.

Grassley said maintaining the economy needs to be the first priority for Americans, though he said he believes in the importance of maintaining the SNAP funding.

 “We have an obligation to make sure people in our country don’t go hungry, that obligation starts with each of as individuals, as a communities, as organizations of faith, and as a government,” Grassley wrote in an email. “We also have an obligation to get the country’s fiscal house in order and every program across the federal government must be scrutinized.”

The interfaith group says there is a misconception regarding the amount of nongovernmental help for people who are struggling to put meals on the table.

“Nongovernment organizations such as churches and shelters only make up for 6 percent of food assistance,” Goldberg said. “If the government stopped the food-stamp programs, people wouldn’t get the food they need.”

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