Utah’s economy is strong, but it isn’t benefiting everyone.
More than 10 percent of Utahns are struggling with food insecurity, or limited or uncertain access to enough food. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) makes a difference for thousands of Utah households, ensuring they have money for food and room in their budget to afford rent and other basic needs.
SNAP serves as the first line of defense against hunger for millions of Americans. In Utah, SNAP reached 76,909 households, serving 185,816 individuals in June. According to the Utah Department of Workforce Services, the majority of individuals benefitting from SNAP are children 17 or younger (52.47 percent), seniors over age 60 (6.76 percent), or people with disabilities (12.63 percent).
Utahns Against Hunger has heard and seen the reality of struggling households in every corner of the state. Sometimes hunger hides behind doors of nice houses with mortgages in default, or the heat turned off, or all of the income going to housing costs, leaving little or no money for food. Sometimes it hides behind the faces of parents who skip meals to protect their children from hunger.
In rural communities, where jobs can be scarce or the job market is often boom and bust, 10 percent of Utah households participate in SNAP, compared with 8 percent of households in metro areas, according to the Food Research & Action Center.
SNAP matters for Utahns. Yet Congress is now debating the future of SNAP in the Farm Bill, the authorizing legislation for this vital program. Utahns Against Hunger supports the Senate version of the Farm Bill because it protects SNAP benefit levels and eligibility for Utahns in need of food assistance. The Senate bill recognizes the strengths of SNAP and the important role it plays in reducing hunger and poverty among children, seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, and low-wage workers.
The House bill does none of these things. Instead it would make it more difficult for working parents, and those struggling to find steady employment, to maintain their eligibility for SNAP. It imposes complex and burdensome reporting requirements that could take away food assistance from people who are already working or who would otherwise qualify for an exemption. These new reporting requirements are designed to reduce the number of people on SNAP, not by helping people get better jobs or increase their income, but by not allowing for any human error — people could be kicked off the rolls simply because they didn’t check the right box or turn in a piece of paper. If the House really wants to assist working families, then it should consider policies that would increase the incomes of workers who, despite having one or more jobs, still qualify for SNAP.
More than 85 percent of Utah families participating in SNAP had at least one working adult in the past 12 months. SNAP provides these households with the ability to put food on the table for themselves and their families as they navigate jobs with variable hours and low wages.
Utah’s congressional delegation has an opportunity to support its most vulnerable constituents by supporting the Senate Farm Bill. This is especially true for Rep. Rob Bishop, who is serving on the Farm Bill conference committee, a group of 56 members of Congress working to find agreement on the final version of the Farm Bill. Supporting a Farm Bill that maintains the integrity of SNAP will demonstrate our delegation’s commitment to those most at risk of food insecurity.
It’s the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.
Gina Cornia is executive director of Utahns Against Hunger.