SNAP is a food program — not a jobs program

All Texans deserve the chance to provide for themselves and their families. But our modern, fast-changing economy is full of both opportunity and risk. Nearly everyone reading this knows a friend or family member who recently found themselves jobless, under-employed or struggling to pay unexpected bills.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) is part of our nation’s insurance against economic uncertainty. SNAP guarantees that in a nation blessed with such agricultural abundance, none of our loved ones should go hungry while they get back on their feet.

But recent debates in Washington, from the federal budget to the farm bill, haven’t focused on SNAP’s success fighting hunger. Instead, lawmakers are looking to hold SNAP accountable for the problems in our economy and labor market that cause people to fall on hard times and turn to SNAP for help.

That’s a tall order for a program built to provide a basic human need. SNAP was designed as an income support, not a jobs program. That’s reasonable when one considers that most SNAP participants are children, seniors or people with disabilities; and that the majority of SNAP recipients who can work already do — just not at jobs that let them escape poverty.

Still, a small percentage of SNAP recipients (including those known as able-bodied adults without dependents) may be reasonably able and expected to use SNAP as a bridge back to work. Congress should look for ways to strengthen this bridge, but not in a way that undermines SNAP’s role in ensuring every American has enough food to build a healthy, productive life.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what proposals from congressional leaders like Speaker Paul Ryan would do. These call for steep funding cuts combined with more state flexibility to deny benefits to those in need, and greater punishment for folks who struggle to find work. These policies don’t reflect who benefits from SNAP today, or the various barriers to success in our modern job market.

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