This Friday, approximately 1.7 million North Carolinians—including 51,000 veterans—will see their food assistance cut when a temporary boost in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits ends, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Such cuts will be another blow to Tar Heel families trying to make ends meet and get a foothold on the economic ladder. Of those receiving SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) in North Carolina, 85 percent are households with children, older adults, or people with disabilities (see this chart).
SNAP benefits are very modest now, with an average monthly benefit of $121.37 per person in North Carolina. The looming benefit cut will vary depending on family size, ranging from $36 a month for a family of four to $11 a month for a single person. These are deep cuts, equating to about 16 “thrifty” meals per month for a family of three, according to the CBPP report.
It is important to keep in mind that 8 in 10 of SNAP households in North Carolina already live under the stingy federal poverty line—which is about $23,000 per year for a family of 4. And, there is plenty of evidence that investments in this food assistance program pay off: it serves as a powerful anti-poverty tool that lifted millions of Americans out of poverty in 2012 and it boosts children’s health and development.
As for the 51,000 low-income veterans in North Carolina who depend on SNAP to put food on the table, they too will face benefit cuts this Friday. Veterans can face endless challenges to joining the labor force upon their return from service, per this CBPP report, which goes on to say:
“While the overall unemployment rate for veterans is lower than the national average, the unemployment rate for recent veterans (serving in September 2001 to the present) remains high, at 10.1 percent in September 2013. About one-quarter of recent veterans reported service-connected disabilities in 2011, which can impact their ability to provide for their families: households with a veteran with a disability that prevents them from working are about twice as likely to lack access to adequate food than households without a disabled member.
Veterans who participate in SNAP tend to be young, but their ages range widely: 57 percent of the veterans in our analysis are under age 30, while 9 percent are aged 60 or older. They served during many conflicts, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Vietnam, and in some cases, Korea and World War II, as well as in peacetime.”
To put the total number of affected veterans into context, 51,000 veterans is more than the combined undergraduate student populations attending Duke, NC State University, and UNC-Chapel Hill. Again, these are deep cuts that affect North Carolinians across the state.
The economic pain will not only be felt by veterans and other North Carolinians who already face difficult tradeoffs between food and other essential needs like rent, utilities, and child care. We all stand to lose from these cuts that are estimated to drain $166 million in benefits alone from North Carolina’s economy over the next federal fiscal year, according to the CBPP report. In fact, the resulting loss in economic activity is valued much higher because every $1 in SNAP benefits is estimated to generate $1.70 in economic activity in a weak economy.
On top of these cuts, Congressional members in both chambers are ironing out a final Farm Bill that may make even deeper cuts to the SNAP program. Until public policies are put in place that close the job shortage, raise wages, and spread the economic gains broadly, keeping a robust safety net system is required to lower and keep poverty in check—all of which points to the need to pursue new revenue at the federal level.