The congressional budget plan that passed both the U.S. House and Senate last month calls for deep cuts in many important programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps. The SNAP program will help nearly 1.7 million Georgians this year put food on the table. Forty-five percent of SNAP recipients in Georgia in 2015 were children, 18 percent were elderly or disabled, and 23 percent lived in rural areas.
While only 17 percent of Georgia’s population lives in rural areas, rural households represent a disproportionate number of the state’s total SNAP recipients, with 23 percent calling rural communities home. This is a manifestation of the problems plaguing rural Georgia. Depressed economic development and job opportunities, shuttered rural hospitals and disconnected infrastructure is creating an unfortunate set of circumstances for our cherished rural communities and the families that call them home. And as a result, an outsized number of rural families rely on food assistance.
Rural Georgia communities that struggle with hunger and food insecurity are too often the same areas that play an essential role supporting Georgia’s agriculture industry. After all, these are the communities that support Georgia’s No. 1 industry, agriculture, which produces food and fiber for the world.
The consequences of slashing SNAP benefits carries repercussions beyond people who need food assistance to feed their families. Cutting the SNAP program also threatens innovations now underway to leverage food assistance dollars to spur economic activity, support new markets and expand the customer base for Georgia farmers.
Georgia’s farming community is working to increase access to Georgia-grown food for families who rely on SNAP benefits, opening up new markets for fresh, healthy food that improves the well-being of families, as well as boost local farm economies. Wholesome Wave Georgia pioneered a statewide effort in 2009 to help families that rely on SNAP benefits purchase fresh, locally-grown food directly from farmers. The program leverages private money to match SNAP benefits dollar-for-dollar, increasing the buying power of food insecure families, stretching SNAP benefits and also supporting local farmers. The food insecure family benefits from fresh, healthy food and the local farm economy benefits as well.
Last month, Congress passed a budget resolution that creates a path to make deep cuts in funding to important programs like SNAP and deliver large tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. SNAP is an essential safety net program that supports our economy, our families and our health as a state.
Given the intense focus by so many Georgia leaders looking for ways to revitalize struggling rural communities and small towns, why clear the table of basic necessities? Increasing the threat of hunger would take the state in the wrong direction and undermines the resiliency of our hardworking, entrepreneurial rural Georgia families.