For the past few weeks, we’ve been writing about the 2018 Farm Bill, what it does to SNAP, and how it will affect hungry North Carolinians. Much of the debate has revolved around strict changes to existing work requirements, as well as unfunded mandates and the elimination of important rules like categorical eligibility.
SNAP isn’t just one of the most important anti-poverty tools, lifting nearly 175,000 people in our state, including 81,000 children, out of poverty each year from 2011-2014 — SNAP’s benefits ripple through the economy and support a holistic food system.
SNAP serves as an economic stimulus
With more than 9,700 retailers in the state participate in SNAP, the program is an important public-private partnership that brought $2.2 billion into the North Carolina economy last year. It works by ensuring that consumers can purchase groceries in local stores and those stores, in turn, can keep workers on the job and pay them and so on. In every part of the state, SNAP is a critical source of income for grocers, big box stores, and other food retailers. By reducing SNAP participation, this Farm Bill could have very real consequences for retailers, particularly in areas where low-income communities are concentrated. Researchers estimate that this Farm Bill could cost retailers across the nation $57.5 billion over the next 10 years.
Harming SNAP will harm anti-hunger charities and food banks
SNAP does not reach everyone in need of help. Food banks and private charities play a large role in closing this gap. In 2016, it was estimated that only 72 percent of food insecure North Carolinians were eligible for SNAP. Food banks and private charities filled in the more than $770 million need. Changes in the 2018 Farm Bill would sharply increase the number of North Carolinians ineligible for food assistance, placing an impossible burden on food banks and charities already struggling to meet rising needs.
SNAP has longterm positive effects on health and the economy
Addressing hunger also increases productivity in the work place and classroom, in turn improving health outcomes. A recent study showed adults who had access to food supports as children are 18 percent more likely to graduate from high school and are 16 percent less likely to be obese. Receiving SNAP also increases the employment rate of adults. Experts found a 70 percent increase in the number of households that are employed within a year of receiving benefits.
The Farm Bill has long recognized that the interests of farmers and producers and consumers can align.
The history of Farm Bill legislation has been a bipartisan effort and alignment of support for those struggling to eat and those who produce our food. The current SNAP proposal will have a damaging effect on North Carolina’s food system just as regions across the state are recognizing the economic potential of maintaining and revitalizing food supply chains and connecting them to low-income communities. North Carolina has the potential to improve the connections between consumers and its nearly $11 billion industry of food agriculture, benefiting both those who produce food and those in need of it. This Farm Bill, however, will weaken this balance by underfunding consumption of food and burdening the state with costs that will detract from agricultural investments.
As Congress prepares to vote on the 2018 Farm Bill tomorrow, it’s important that our representatives understand the implications that harming SNAP will have on every facet of our state. Not only are we obligated to help those in need, it’s critical for the health of our economy that we do so.
Brian Kennedy II is a Public Policy Fellow for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.