Along with the entire Feeding America network, Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina strongly opposes the USDA proposal to remove millions of people struggling with hunger from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) through the proposal to severely restrict Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility (Cat El).
This proposal will intensify food insecurity and hunger for an estimated 3.1 million individuals – including children, seniors, and people with disabilities.
In North Carolina, 106,000 individuals would lose access to SNAP benefits if this proposal is approved. According to the latest release of Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap study, 14.6% of the residents – or 1 in 7 – in Second Harvest Food Bank’s 18 county service area are struggling with food insecurity. The numbers are even higher for children facing hunger – 20.6% or 1 in 5.
Despite a recovering economy, Second Harvest Food Bank and our partner agency network continue to experience a high demand for food assistance. For every meal Second Harvest Food Bank and our partner agency network provides, SNAP can provide 9 meals. As a food bank, we cannot compensate for the impact these cuts will have on our service area.
Cat El policies have been in effect for more than two decades and have historically received bipartisan support. This proposal would greatly reduce our state’s flexibility under the Cat El option. States would no longer have the option of disregarding SNAP asset tests and utilizing a higher income test to serve more working households. The elimination of Cat El would produce a “cliff effect” that would suddenly remove food assistance from low-income families when they accept a raise or a new job with a slightly higher rate of pay. Removing food assistance feels like a punishment to families just trying to better their situation.
Families with even the modest savings would lose SNAP benefits under this proposal. Emergency savings can help families weather common financial emergencies such as job loss, costly car repairs, or unexpected medical bills without being pushed into—or deeper into—poverty. Already, 4 in 10 adults in America report they either could not cover an emergency expense of $400 or would need to borrow or sell something to do so.
Furthermore, this proposal is a disincentive for individuals to save for their retirement, as retirement accounts are considered in the asset test. Discouraging saving in order to feed one’s family is not a step in the right direction.
With this proposal, hundreds of thousands of children nationally would lose access to school meals when their families are no longer eligible for SNAP benefits. When a child is worried about when they will eat again, they cannot be expected to thrive in school. Regular access to healthy and affordable meals is one of the strongest predictors of improved school outcomes, better health, and sound childhood development. Without access to the healthy food necessary for our children to thrive in school, how can we as a country expect to remain globally competitive?
Finally, SNAP also has an important impact on local economies. By cutting SNAP benefits, the economic stimulus effect will be reduced. According to recent studies by USDA Economic Research Service, the total economic activity of $1 of SNAP benefits is between $1.50 and $1.80. The truth of the matter is that many of the local economies in the areas our Food Bank serve rely on SNAP spending.
Last December, Congress passed a bipartisan Farm Bill that did not include this harmful proposal. It feels clear to us that this proposal by USDA to eliminate Cat El is an attempt to sidestep the work of Congress.
We urge USDA to rescind the Cat El proposal and instead build on its successes by strengthening the positive impacts of SNAP for health and well-being of our residents and the economy.
Eric A. Aft, CEO
Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina