SNAP funding cut could affect CU

People with low food security may be facing troublesome times due to a bill pushed by House Republicans on Sept. 19 that could potentially cut SNAP funding by $39 billion in the next decade.

SNAP, or Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, is a government-funded organization formerly known as the Food Stamp program that helps people with low income pay for food.

About 48 million Americans utilize SNAP benefits, according to the Food Research and Action Center. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that with this bill, the number would decrease to about 34 million by 2023. The new bill also tightens restrictions on who can receive SNAP benefits.

According to the bill, adults without children must find a job or go through a work-training program in order to receive SNAP benefits, whereas before, many could provide a waiver. Some people who are already enrolled in government welfare programs will no longer be able to receive benefits.

The Champaign-Urbana community would not be untouched by these changes. According to a 2010 review done by the Food and Research Action Center, 18,940 people, or 10 percent, of the Champaign County population participate in the SNAP program. Illinois was one of three states with the highest person-level increase in SNAP participation in 2013. Many of these include families with young children.

Donna Camp, director of the Wesley Evening Food Pantry in Urbana, said she often sees families who utilize SNAP come into the pantry.

“Families with children mostly know what is healthy and want the best for their kids,” she said. “But when … the car breaks down and you either get the car fixed so that you can go to work and continue to earn money, or buy the best food for your children, that’s an awful choice to have to make. And so SNAP can make the difference.”

Using SNAP benefits can also mean the difference in obtaining necessary household items. In 2011, a team of researchers from the University’s Family Resiliency Center conducted interviews with low-income families as part of a nationwide survey by Feeding America. The study, released this September, found that American families are struggling to afford not only food, but also essential household goods such as laundry detergent, paper towels and diapers.

“Many of these families are going without basic household needs like toothpaste, soap and other household necessities for personal hygiene, like diapers, that can have consequences for their health,” said Barbara Fiese, director of the Family Resiliency Center. “Any time that you’re able to support people in getting food, then they can use some of those funds to procure some other household needs that they might have.”

Whether a person has low food security or lacks the ability to buy household goods, trying to obtain the essentials has a significant emotional impact on those affected. Comments made on the survey indicate that people want to maintain the appearance of normalcy, even if they are struggling. An anonymous source from the survey said, “I had to use hygiene products in public bathrooms to freshen up and not make us look homeless.”

SNAP benefits and food from pantries alleviate some of that stress.

“The relief when people walk out of here with two or three bags of groceries … it’s really amazing,” Camp said.

Zila can be reached at [email protected]