GUEST OPINION: A taste of the GOP's extreme austerity diet - Santa Rosa Press Democrat

June 18, 2013

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It's easy to argue for austerity when you talk about impersonal cuts to vague acronyms. But programs like SNAP, TANF and WIC aren't just abstract concepts. They are programs that directly affect American families. We need to personalize them if we're going to make a difference.

Take, for example, SNAP: the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps. Most Americans won't recognize the formal name, and many don't know that House Republicans are preparing to slash funding for food stamps by $20 billion — part of their extreme austerity diet for America.

But for 47 million Americans, SNAP isn't a vague acronym; it's one of the only things putting dinner on the table.

SNAP is a lifeline for millions of American families who cannot afford to eat without this modest assistance. Families across America have lost their jobs, homes and stability because of the recession, and SNAP has been vital to help get them back on their feet. For these Americans, these cuts can mean a choice between food on the table and paying the utility bill. The House Farm Bill, which is on its way to the House floor, eliminates food assistance to nearly 2 million low-income Americans. This is unconscionable.

Our most recent poverty data is from 2011. That year, 15 percent of Americans lived in poverty. One in six American households struggled against hunger. Yet, the House Farm Bill deems SNAP a wasteful government program. It is absolutely the opposite: The average individual SNAP benefit is $4.50 per day — to cover breakfast, lunch and dinner. Many of us spend that on our morning coffee.

Although SNAP is intended to be supplemental, for many recipients it is all they have to spend on food. If these cuts go into effect, 850,000 households would lose an average of $90 per month, nearly a full week's worth of groceries.

Studies have shown the long-lasting impacts of childhood hunger, which prevents kids from reaching their full potential. Nearly 75 percent of SNAP recipients are families with children, and the House Farm Bill shuts 210,000 children out of free or reduced-cost school meals. More than a quarter of SNAP recipients are households with seniors or people with disabilities, retirees who have no income or families that just need a little extra help.

The House Farm Bill makes it harder for these seniors, kids and families. For example, working households could lose all their SNAP benefits merely because they own a car. For many families in my North Coast district, a car isn't a luxury. It's a necessity. Families rely on their vehicles to commute to work, and to penalize someone for wanting to work isn't just absurd, it's cruel.

But citing statistics alone won't win the argument. Congress needs to understand what these cruel austerity measures mean on a personal level rather than a generic statistical sample. To fix this, my colleagues need to think about how it will affect individuals and families in their own communities.

That's why I'm taking the “SNAP Challenge” this week and trying to live off of the average SNAP recipient's $4.50 a day — just $1.50 a meal. I will be keeping a record through Twitter and Facebook at and

The SNAP Challenge is more than a chance for me to experience the struggle of a SNAP recipient's day-to-day challenge. It's my attempt to help show my colleagues in Congress to see exactly how meager SNAP benefits actually are, and how vital they are to millions of families across America.

We need to start a conversation about what extreme austerity measures really mean to American families.

Rep. Jared Huffman represents the 2nd Congressional District, which stretches from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border and includes most of Sonoma County.