By Billy Kangas
Last month I had the privilege of moderating a public conversation on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP for short). The panel was made up of Markell Miller, of Food Gatherers; Lauren Velez, of Avalon Housing; Krista Nordberg of Washtenaw Health Plan; and Leah Zaas of Jewish Family Services. I personally found the conversation to be incredibly illuminating. As congress prepares to make decisions about the budget this summer I think it’s important to understand the role that SNAP plays in the broader food system. Here are a few takeaways from the meeting that I found particularly helpful:
- SNAP is confusing: SNAP is the federal program that provides people with funds to buy food. In its implementation, however, it goes by many names. It was formally called “food stamps.” In the State of Michigan it’s called simply “Food Assistance.” People will also talk about it as a “Bridge Card” or as “EBT.” All of these things can refer to the SNAP program.
- SNAP is responsive to need: One of the benefits of having a Federal, rather than a State program, that funds SNAP is that the program will naturally scale up as need increases without the fear of exhausting funds.
- Our county is complicated: Washtenaw county’s higher cost of living can make life incredibly difficult for people just over the eligibility line. We also are one of the few counties that requires able bodied adults without dependents to work. This means we must take special care to provide for those who might fall through the cracks.
- SNAP isn’t a magic bullet, but it’s an essential piece: Even with SNAP help; many people still struggle to access food. Food pantries are an essential part of the food security network, however we can’t food pantry our way our of hunger. If SNAP, for some reason, was taken away every local faith community in the country would have to contribute $50,000 annually to make up the difference.
- SNAP is a stimulus package for the local economy: For every dollar of SNAP money that is spent, there is $1.70 generated in economic activity. SNAP provides funding to keep local stores afloat, it provides new jobs and it helps make local farms financially sustainable. SNAP provides an economic boost in the local food economy that everyone benefits from.
- There’s an incentive for healthy local food: With programs like “Double Up Food Bucks” eating healthy and eating local can be cheaper then shopping at big grocery chains. When you take your SNAP bucks to a farmers market to buy local produce you can double them!
- SNAP helps reduce healthcare costs: Diet is an essential factor in generating great health outcomes. SNAP helps equip people to make healthier choices and live healthier lives. If we don’t fund food we will wind up spending that same money on healthcare.
- SNAP is an amazingly well administered program: SNAP’s error rate is so low that it would actually cost more in administrative costs to lower it than it would be able to recover through reducing the error.
- Getting SNAP isn’t a snap: The SNAP application is hard to navigate particularly if you struggle with technology, have a disability, or if English isn’t your first language. One way that people can help is through learning how to become a navigation partner. You can help people who struggle apply by helping walk with them through the process.
- SNAP matters for everyone! Our community is at its best when everyone can flourish. Even if you don’t struggle with food security there is someone you interact with each day that does. Helping to equip people to live healthier lives, escape from poverty and contribute to their full potential is something that we all will benefit from.