By Shelley Rotondo
Imagine waking up to find a week’s worth of groceries missing from your pantry. That may become the reality for more than 230,000 Washington households that rely on food stamps. Let me put it in perspective: It’s more than the combined population of Everett, Edmonds and Lynnwood or two and a half times the capacity of Century Link Field.
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate handed a bill to the House that cut $4.5 billion in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps) funding in the Farm Bill. This deals a devastating blow to a minimum of 234,000 Washington households that stand to lose an estimated $90 each month in food stamps. It comes at a time when the need is at an all-time high: many parents are still without jobs and children in your community go to bed hungry.
Washington is a state rich in technology and diverse in agricultural products. Yet, according to the USDA, we are the 11th hungriest state in the nation. There is no good excuse for that ranking. Washingtonians need to work together to save federal funding and help keep kids and our neighbors from going hungry.
As one 13-year-old food bank customer from Skagit County told us, “Kids don’t understand that we don’t have money to buy food. My little sister cries when we can’t eat.”
It is unconscionable that any child should have to go hungry, which is why Northwest Harvest and those who support our mission by donating food, money or time to us or a local food bank have gone the extra mile in a time of unprecedented need. But food banks can’t handle the need by themselves. Food stamps are, and must remain, our first line of defense against hunger. The fight to eliminate hunger is effective when SNAP is supplemented by the efforts of the emergency hunger response network, not supplanted by it.
The House will now consider this Farm Bill and respond with one of its own. Every indication is that their proposed cuts to SNAP will be even deeper before the bill is passed into law. The House Agriculture Committee wants to take $14.5 billion out of SNAP by cutting and even eliminating all benefits for certain working poor families. These families are trying to achieve self-sufficiency, but make too little money to pay for necessities such as food, childcare and housing. Now is the time for Washington’s representatives to follow the lead of our senators in doing the right thing — vote for amendments that protect SNAP because it’s an investment in our communities while helping families meet the most basic of needs.
We thank both Sen. Patty Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell for voting to save SNAP dollars, but now we turn to our U.S. representatives and you. Please take action by calling on your local representative. Ask him or her to vote to protect and strengthen SNAP for low-income families.
Thanks to generous support from individuals, growers and companies, Northwest Harvest can feed a family of three for 67 cents. We’re proud of how much we can do to alleviate hunger with so little, however, without SNAP benefits, it won’t be nearly enough. We need the help of Congress, our partner food banks and you to do what Northwest Harvest has been doing for 45 years — distribute food to anyone who’s hungry enough to ask. Our motto is Hunger Stops Here, but the fight to end hunger starts with all of us.
Shelley Rotondo is Executive Director of Northwest Harvest, the only non-profit food bank distributor operating statewide in Washington with a network of over 325 food banks, meal programs and high-need schools.