Guest Columnists

Federal budget cuts threaten food for nearly 400,000 Iowans

Pallets of green beans, peaches and tomatoes are stacked awaiting distribution at the Hawkeye Area Community Assistance Program Food Reservoir on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Hiawatha. These are provided to HACAP through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), a federal program that provides commodities at no cost. Food bank funding has been left out of this year’s budget proposal by Gov. Terry Branstad. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)
Pallets of green beans, peaches and tomatoes are stacked awaiting distribution at the Hawkeye Area Community Assistance Program Food Reservoir on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Hiawatha. These are provided to HACAP through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), a federal program that provides commodities at no cost. Food bank funding has been left out of this year’s budget proposal by Gov. Terry Branstad. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)
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When you work at the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program (HACAP) Food Reservoir, you can get a sense of the kinds of struggles families in our community face.

I see workers who earn too little to feed themselves and their families, despite working long hours. I chat with people who have recently lost their jobs because they had to take care of a sick child or parent. Others might have medical debt from an unexpected health care crisis that’s squeezing their family budget.

I know that our food bank makes a difference to the community, but I also know we can’t do it alone. Many of the people who are served through our programs and Partner Agencies also use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to afford healthy foods at the grocery store. We help them meet a short-term need while SNAP helps them get by on a day-to-day basis.

With minimal input — average benefits are only $1.23 per person per meal in Iowa — SNAP has a huge impact.

All told, SNAP keeps more than 8 million people out of poverty and puts millions more on the path to a better life.

Unfortunately, despite President Donald Trump’s campaign promises to protect working families, his budget plan slashes SNAP. Most of those cuts come from shifting 25 percent of SNAP costs to the states, costing Iowa more than $884 million over 10 years.

This cost-shifting leaves our state with an impossible choice: cut SNAP benefits, cut state funding for other critical programs, or raise taxes — or a combination of all three. That’s a choice that is bad for Iowans and we need to reject it.

And now Congress is expected to include similar cuts to SNAP in the upcoming federal budget. We are asking Sen. Grassley, Sen. Ernst, and our members of the House of Representatives to preserve SNAP in the congressional budget and maintain the American commitment to ensure no child goes hungry.

Extreme cuts or changes to the program would have devastating consequences for communities like ours, especially the most vulnerable among us. Millions of working families, children, senior citizens, and veterans nationwide would be left unable to pay their grocery bill and faced with the possibility of sliding further into poverty.

A setback for these Americans would be a setback for all of us. With many customers unable to pay for food and other basic needs, local businesses would see decreasing sales. Meanwhile, demand would be up at community shelters and food banks like HACAP Food Reservoir.

Despite our best efforts to meet the needs of our community, we could never make up the difference. Food banks and shelters are already overburdened — we certainly don’t have the resources to feed so many.

I believe that families like the ones I work with at the food reservoir shouldn’t have to go hungry. Neither should the more than 95,000 SNAP participants in families with members who are elderly or have disabilities and struggle to balance food costs with medical expenses and housing. And neither should the one in four children nationwide who can go to school on a full stomach thanks to SNAP.

And it should go without saying that the millions of veterans who have turned to SNAP deserve better, too.

Whether or not you spend time at the food reservoir, we all have a part to play in lifting up our community. We at the HACAP Food Reservoir are urging our congressional leaders to protect SNAP — and the millions of Americans who use the program to feed their families.

I hope you’ll join us.

• Linda Gorkow is director of HACAP Food Reservoir.

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