It can be hard to imagine that thousands of our neighbors struggle with hunger, yet that is the reality for the nearly 140,000 Montanans living in food insecure households. Seniors, families with children, veterans, and even working Montanans aren’t always able to put food on the table, impacting the health, productivity, and academic success of our families and communities.
Our nation’s most important tool to combat hunger is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP fills in the cracks for low-wage workers, making sure they aren’t forced to choose between feeding their families and paying the rent. For kids, SNAP ensures they have nutritious foods outside of school hours, helping them focus and succeed in the classroom. For seniors, SNAP ensures they can fill their prescriptions and still buy enough groceries to remain healthy and independent. And for adults struggling through an unexpected job loss, illness, or other tragedy, SNAP provides an important stepping stone, helping them get through a hard time. Last but not least, SNAP supports our grocery stores, farmers markets, and state economy by bringing our federal tax dollars back to Montana.
That’s why we are concerned by continual attempts to weaken SNAP, at both the state and federal levels.
The first threat at the federal level will be through the upcoming budget resolution process, followed by the reauthorization of the Farm Bill. Congress has yet to develop specific policy proposals so it is crucial to reach out now to express the importance and effectiveness of SNAP. Let Montana’s Congressional leaders know that attempts to cut the program or undermine its foundational effectiveness through block granting or other structural changes are unacceptable.
SNAP is also at risk at the state level. A bill to revise SNAP eligibility, HB 361 sponsored by Rep. Tom Burnett, would make income guidelines even more stringent than they currently are, and would reinstitute a resource limit. Decreasing our state’s gross income test will primarily hurt working families with children, as well as families with high housing costs. Resource limits can be particularly harmful for low-income seniors but negatively impact all families. Numerous studies have demonstrated that having savings and other resources are critical for families trying to get back on their feet. Building assets helps low-income families invest in their future and avert a financial crisis that can push them deeper into poverty. At asset limit discourages savings and forces families to spend down all of their resources before receiving help.
Please speak out against harmful changes to SNAP. Let our lawmakers know that SNAP is one of our most effective and efficient public programs. It is quietly providing dignity and opportunity for thousands of Montanans when they need it most. Denying individuals the ability to access food assistance would have long terms costs on our nation’s health and productivity that are far greater than any immediate budget savings.
Lorianne Burhop, Chief Policy Officer, Montana Food Bank Network