Editorial: Cuts to SNAP hurt vulnerable Iowans


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Were the United States a perfect meritocracy in which all received rewards proportional to their work and talents, there’d be little need for programs targeted toward the poor. But that’s not how the world works. It’s a lot messier: Some people in society have it relatively easy, others have to work reasonably hard but aren’t in bad shape, while the very unlucky have to fight tooth and nail just to survive. Like it or not, that is reality.

One of the ways the federal government tries to make the system fairer is through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. However, as of Nov. 1, additional funding for SNAP provided by the 2009 Recovery Act expired.

The recent lapse of funding in food assistance amounts to kicking Iowa’s working families when they’re down.

Approximately 420,000 Iowans receive varying degrees of support from SNAP, around 14 percent of the state’s population. While 88 percent of Iowans who qualify for the food-assistance program receive benefits, for those of you doing the arithmetic, that still leaves 12 percent of eligible individuals who do not get any aid from SNAP.

Those who receive SNAP benefits are among the most vulnerable. More than 72 percent of Iowa households participating in the program have at least one child, more than 21 percent have an elderly or disabled person, and 51 percent of all participants are in working families, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The center also pointed out that 81 percent of Iowa families who participate in SNAP are below the federal poverty level, which itself drastically underestimates the number of poor people.

The Iowa Policy Project calculated the cost of living for every county in Iowa. A family of four in Johnson County with two working parents is expected to spend $4,514 every month just to get by. That comes out to $54,168 every year, almost double the poverty threshold set by the federal government for a family of the same size, $23,550.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that a family of four can receive up to $668 each month, which is going to be cut by $36, and it doesn’t even cover the $739 projected monthly food bill for a typical Johnson County family of four. SNAP is not especially generous, providing the average Iowa recipient with $1.25 per meal as of May, the Iowa Fiscal Partnership reported.

Even with food assistance, the most recent data from the Agriculture Department show that 12 percent of Iowans qualified as being food-insecure between 2009 and 2011. A family is food-insecure if a lack of money and other resources restrict access to food.

The ones hurt most by inadequate nutrition, of course, are children who cannot control the circumstances into which they are born.

Researchers from the University of Drexel showed in a study that a growing body of academic work is highlighting the massive importance of early childhood in human development, with quality nutrition playing a huge role.

“Even the slightest forms of food insecurity can affect a young child’s development and learning potential,” they wrote. “The result is the perpetuation of another generation in poverty.”

Allowing the food-assistance program to diminish is an impractical, inhumane, and immoral policy decision.

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