Poverty, not SNAP, is the problem

By Scott Young, Lincoln Journal Star. June 13, 2017

In a column in the Lincoln Journal Star (“‘Gotcha’ mentality stiles needed dialogue,” June 3), Third District Rep. Adrian Smith wrote of his valid concerns about the culture in which we ind ourselves; “The ‘gotcha’ mentality rampant in politics divides us and prevents the real substantive conversations we so desperately need.” His column is primarily a result of a recent NPR interview regarding President Donald Trump’s budget proposal, in which Rep. Smith was asked repeatedly if Americans are “entitled to eat.” His refusal to provide the interviewer a yes-or-no answer resulted in a landslide of harsh, social-media-fueled criticism. President Trump’s budget would cut the food stamp program by approximately
25 percent over the next 10 years.

At the Food Bank of Lincoln, we believe one of the “substantive conversations” we so desperately need should be centered on why so many hard-working Nebraskans do not have the resources to live the Good Life. The headline in a May 26 op-ed piece in the New York Times deines a worthy conversation: “The Problem Isn’t Food Stamps, It’s Poverty.”

The number of people on food stamps is not the problem. Our collective challenge is that too many people need food stamps.

The editorial board of the Times opines: “Food stamps, oicially the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, keep millions of people from falling into poverty each year and prevent millions of poor people, many disabled or elderly, from falling deeper into poverty. They also improve the future prospects of poor children by fostering better health and graduation rates.”

Improving prospects for under-resourced kids is a principle upon which most, but not all of us, can agree. In general, “gotcha mentality” is scarce when it comes to helping kids.

The Times op-ed piece also suggests correctly the SNAP program is good for the farm economy: “Into the bargain, food stamps support the farm economy and the broader economy by creating a bigger market for food and supplying cash that is quickly

According to the Center of Budget and Policy, SNAP participants in Nebraska include thousands of families with children. In our state, more than 74 percent of SNAP participants are families with children, which is higher than the national average of 68 percent.

In Nebraska, 29 percent of households participating in SNAP are families with members who are elderly or disabled. Many SNAP participants are hard-working Nebraskans. Slightly less than 50 percent of participating SNAP households have someone in the home who is employed.

Given these startling statistics, we suggest the right substantive conversation should not be “How do we get more people of food assistance programs?” but rather “How do we work together to have fewer people who need food assistance programs?”

Rep. Smith writes; “My goal in Congress remains being a solution-oriented representative who listens and looks for common ground.” Common ground abounds when it comes to ensuring all Nebraskans have enough to eat.

We urge Rep. Smith and all of our elected representatives to work hard to support nonpartisan food programs like Nebraska’s creditable, highly efficient food stamp program that helps tens of thousands of Nebraskans have a better shot at the Good Life.

Scott Young has been executive
director of the Food Bank of Lincoln
since 2001.

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