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Working in a Food Bank means I am learning a great deal about different government assistance policies and initiatives in addition to the work of private organizations. One of the most important government program in food-related assistance is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Previously known as Food Stamps, SNAP is the fundamental method for providing government assistance to those in need of food support. As of the June 2013 estimate, SNAP serves about 48 million Americans in the 50 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands.

2013.9.23 SNAP Poverty Demographics

SNAP is the modern result of extensive changes throughout a long history of governmental food assistance. SNAP serves a number of vulnerable populations including children, the disabled, the elderly, and low-income workers. Over 80% of SNAP recipients have a gross household income below the poverty rate and about 42% of recipients have a household income less than half the poverty rate!

2013.9.23 SNAP Working Graph

SNAP benefits are determined by a number of factors including household size and income. One of the most controversial and difficult challenges of entitlement programs are their effect on incentives and the need to work – SNAP addresses these challenges by utilizing an earnings deduction as well as gradual reduction in benefits when earnings are increased. This structure ensures that SNAP does not remove the incentive to work (the deduction means that increasing earnings will increase overall welfare, not just reduce entitlements) while mitigating problems such as earnings barriers (limits to maximum and minimum income a recipient would want to achieve in order to continue receiving benefits) and removing the exclusive purchase requirement of the previous food stamp programs.

To completely describe SNAP is beyond the scope of this post and well beyond my expertise. Read more SNAP facts from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, our check out their series “Setting the Record Straight on SNAP.” This is especially important now, as Congress debates the legislation that authorizes the funding of SNAP. The 2008 farm bill would have already expired if not for an extension to September 30th. Now both houses of congress have passed their respective versions of the bill and will begin negotiating a final bill to send to the president. 

House: H.R. 3102: Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013

Senate: S. 954: Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013

Based on the 217:210 vote in the House (no Democrats voted Yay and only 15 Republicans Nay) it is clear Republicans will be demanding cuts to SNAP in the final version. Also, check out the so-called “SNAP Challenge” 26 members of Congress are taking to highlight the need for SNAP funding. To note: of the 26 congressmen/women participating, zero are Republican.