SEATTLE - More than 2,500 organizations across the country are petitioning Congress to reject plans that cut or dismantle the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps). Their letter
, sent to every member of Congress and the White House, includes 54 groups in Washington state. It says converting SNAP to a block grant program would be devastating to millions who depend on it to eat and feed their families.
Ellen Vollinger, legal director for the Food Research and Action Center
, says the letter-writing campaign explains how changing SNAP would put recipients at risk of having their benefits cut in half, or being dropped from the program altogether.
"The food stamp program is the nation's first defense against hunger. It's very important to about 44 million people across the country."
Some members of the U.S. House want to cut funding for the program by about $14 billion a year, starting in 2012.
Vollinger says that couldn't come at a worse time, with economic recovery at a crawl. She says the current SNAP program is flexible enough to respond to changes brought on by unemployment, under-employment, and such events as the natural disasters that have recently ripped through several states.
"The program structure is such, as an entitlement, that it can kick in very quickly and provide temporary help and get benefits flowing to those families, to help them recover and to help their communities economically recover."
She points out that SNAP dollars are spent in local stores, which also helps merchants. And even though it's a government-run program, Vollinger says it's been working well with private-sector partnerships.
"It uses regular retail outlets. Government hasn't had to set up its own set of government stores, or government-operated trucking. It's very efficient, in the sense of being able to partner with the regular retailer community."
In Washington state, more than one million people are SNAP recipients, up 12 percent from a year ago. According to Vollinger, nearly 80 percent of recipients are households with children; the rest are mostly seniors and people with disabilities.