This post was written by OK Policy intern Carly Putnam. Carly is an undergraduate at the University of Tulsa majoring in Sociology and Women’s & Gender Studies. She can be found on Twitter at @CarlyPutnam.
The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, is a lifeline for low-income Oklahomans. Residents whose net earnings total are at or below the federal poverty level – just shy of $20,000 per year for a family of three – may be eligible. Over 615,000 Oklahomans, or one out of every six residents, receive SNAP benefits. This includes 24,600 veterans, 116,000 disabled or elderly adults, and 294,000 children. Four out of every ten SNAP recipients in the state is a child.
SNAP enrollment is highly correlated with the health of the economy; the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has called it one of the most responsive federal programs providing additional assistance in economic downturns. During the Great Recession, SNAP applications jumped 80.3 percent. The 2009 Recovery Act temporarily increased benefits “as a form of effective economic stimulus and to reduce the hardship that low-income families faced during the recession.”
Those increased benefits are now set to expire nationwide on November 1. This will amount to a $66 million cut from Oklahoma’s SNAP allocations, dropping the average benefit per meal to less than $1.40. A household consisting of a single mother and her two children will see SNAP benefits drop by $29 per month – a loss of about sixteen meals.
For Oklahoma families barely staying above water, such as those profiled in our Neglected Oklahoma series, these cuts may be devastating. As we noted in our 2012 poverty profile, the economic recovery is leaving too many Oklahomans behind. Household median incomes have continued to drop, and nearly a quarter of the state’s children are now in poverty.
SNAP cuts, coupled with the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid, will put further barriers between hardworking Oklahomans and financial stability for themselves and their families. Food banks are struggling to cope with rising food insecurity in Oklahoma, particularly childhood hunger, and we’ve written about why charity can’t replace the safety net.
SNAP is a proven tool for helping to keep individuals and families out of poverty in Oklahoma. Research has shown that every dollar spent on SNAP produces $1.73 in economic activity and was responsible for keeping four million people above the poverty level in 2012 alone. Food security is essential for a productive and healthy populace. The effects of childhood hunger last for decades, and unsurprisingly, hunger in adulthood is linked to lower productivity and greater likelihood of increasing poverty. For many Oklahomans, economic recovery remains far out of reach. Making them hungrier will only widen that gap.