by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter
Democratic 4th Congressional District Congresswoman Betty McCollum heard a string of officials, faith leaders and members of the public testify against a proposal in the Republican-led U.S. House to cut about $21 billion over 10 years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a food stamp program nicknamed SNAP.
McCollum, at the listening session Monday, June 10, at the State Capitol and in a statement on the U.S. House floor, called the proposal, contained in the House farm bill, “immoral” and “cruel and harmful.” No one at the supportive State Capitol listening session faulted the congresswoman’s language.
“Children do not choose their families,” Minnesota House Health and Human Services Policy Committee Chairwoman Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, said of children facing hunger as a result of from their parents being cut off from food stamps.
The proposed SNAP cut, McCollum said, could affect 30,000 Minnesotans. About 551,000 Minnesotans, or about one in 10 residents, received benefits from SNAP in January, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Nationally, the ratio is one in seven, according to the Center. Numbers vary with localities.
Ramsey County Commissioner Mary Jo McGuire said a quarter of Ramsey County residents participate in SNAP — enrollment in the program has jumped in recent times, she said. Democratic 5th Congressional District Congressman Keith Ellison, who along with Democratic Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon attended the listening session, asked McGuire whether food shelves or other charities could cover the proposed SNAP cuts.
“The need is so much greater than they can provide,” McGuire said.
Faith leaders backed the commissioner’s assertion. Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis Public Policy Manager Marie Ellis spoke of charities “stretched to our limit.”
“No more hungry neighbors,” St. Paul Council on Churches Director Patricia Lull said of the prevailing spirit in the council.
The Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other faiths in the council may disagree on theology, she said, but not on stopping hunger.
In its breakdown of Minnesota SNAP recipients, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a self-described nonpartisan research group based in Washington, noted that 68 percent of all Minnesota SNAP recipients are in families with children.
Some 44 percent of SNAP recipients are in working families, according to the Center.
About 82 percent of households receiving SNAP benefits have income below the federal poverty line of about $22,000 for a family of four. About 41 percent of families are deeply poor, with incomes less than 50 percent of the poverty line.
Not that the poor always jump to enroll. About a quarter of SNAP-eligible individuals in Minnesota are not enrolled in the program, according to the Center.
“I absolutely did not want to go for it,” 19-year-old Tyler Lindroth, who has been homeless, told McCollum and Ellison about enrolling in SNAP.
The fact he fainted one day convinced him he had to take better care of himself, Lindroth said.
SNAP recipient Erin Pavlica of St. Paul, cradling one of her three children, spoke of having a working husband and of the family’s efforts at urban farming. She is teaching her children to grow food for the future, she said.
SNAP recipients receive their benefits on electronic transfer cards that can be used to purchase food at 3,000 locations in Minnesota.
According to the Center, the average monthly benefit for each household member in Minnesota last year was about $116 — the number includes a temporary boost.
In its analysis of the House farm bill, the Center noted that the bulk of the proposed cut, or savings, depending on how its viewed, comes from elimination of a state option that allows some families and seniors to receive SNAP benefits though having gross incomes or assets above the federal SNAP limit, but disposal incomes, in most cases, below the federal poverty line.
The Democratic-led Senate in its farm bill looks to cut SNAP by about $4 billion. Floor action on the farm bills could come soon.
Tim Budig can be reached at [email protected]