There’s nothing better than summer in Montana. Sweet Flathead cherries, fresh bread baked with Montana wheat, huckleberries and bison burgers on the grill. In Montana, we share our bounty. The main reason Montanans lock their doors in the summer? So their neighbors won’t drop off another bushel of zucchini or rhubarb.
But for the one in seven Montanans who have trouble keeping food on the table, this summer bounty is a dream, not a reality. A staggering one-third of Montanans are at risk of food insecurity. In rural parts of the state where jobs are hard to come by and incomes are not enough to cover basic needs, inability to afford enough groceries is even more common. In a state that prides itself on our agricultural bounty, no one should be going hungry.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) combats this problem. In January 2013, SNAP helped roughly 129,000 Montanans put food on their tables, including 54,000 children and 9,000 seniors.
SNAP does more than stave off hunger. SNAP benefits all Montanans, not just the ones enrolled in the program. Farmers do better when there are more grocery shoppers to buy their crops. Every $1 billion spent on food through SNAP creates close to 3,000 farm jobs. In a state where agriculture is a significant industry, this is not a number to be taken lightly. It only takes five SNAP dollars to generate nine dollars in community spending, making SNAP an effective investment in our local economy.
SNAP helps low-income individuals as they work to become financially stable. Half of all new participants stay on the program for less than 10 months. Employers can benefit too, as their employees who use SNAP are healthier and take fewer sick days. SNAP cuts the number of households with children living in extreme poverty (living on $2 or less per day, per person) roughly in half, and lifts millions of other individuals out of poverty. Kids do better in school when their bellies are full, helping to create our next generation of healthy, educated workers.
The House just voted down a Farm Bill which would have removed nearly 2 million people from SNAP and prevented over 200,000 children from receiving free school meals. In addition, it would have denied benefits to mothers of children as young as one who have lost their jobs and cannot find work. The fight to protect SNAP is not over. In future iterations of the bill, our representatives must protect this program that is so vital to thousands of Montanans.
When making decisions about the future of our country, our budget, and our economy, we need to ask ourselves: Is this good for our children? Does this protect our elderly? Will this help grow our economy? Does this reflect our Montana values? SNAP meets all those standards.
SNAP is a vital investment in struggling individuals, families and children across the state, and we all benefit when they can purchase food in their local grocery store. This summer, instead of taking food stamps off the table for thousands of Montanans, let’s choose to share our bounty.
Policy analyst Jackie Semmens of the Montana Budget and Policy Center writes from Helena.