Many families will honor fallen soldiers of the past as they gather this Memorial Day. It’s an opportunity to enjoy the long-awaited summer weather over a long-weekend of picnics, grill outs, BBQs and related activities.
But this year, many families will find those same activities hard to afford because of recent cuts to SNAP benefits that accompanied the end of the pandemic and rising food prices on everything from eggs to meat. Congress could make things worse with the current negotiations on a default deal that threatens to cut key nutrition programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Meals On Wheels, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) that help millions get access to the food they need for themselves and their families. Federal cuts to food and nutrition programs will force people to pay more for the food they need out-of-pocket at a time when food is historically expensive and millions do not have the resources to keep up with the rising costs of all the basics: food, housing, healthcare and transportation.
No one disagrees that the price of food is rising–both here and abroad. While food prices generally increased about 2% in prior years, they increased about 11% from 2021 to 2022. Inflation was a contributing factor, but other issues like the price of transportation, supply chain disruptions, workforce shortages, and climate changes that impact producers ability to keep up with demand were also to blame. Some of these problems will continue to persist for some time, keeping prices high. In 2022, food prices increased by a whopping 9.9%, and are expected to rise by another 6.2% in 2023.
Rising food costs are easier to absorb for upper income families than they are for low-wage workers or low- and fixed-income populations like seniors and people with disabilities. For people who earn less, rising food prices forces them to use a greater share of their income for food while squeezing out other basics like housing, healthcare, transportation. Nearly a quarter of adults don’t get enough food to eat consistently, impacting their long-term health and well-being.
Despite growing need for access to nutritious food, more than 30 states cut their food stamp benefits in March due to the expiration of a pandemic program to provide more funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Millions more people are turning to charity programs like soup kitchens and food shelves for their meals and the number will only increase as Republicans in Congress continue to push for even more cuts.
The GOP’s budget proposal includes deep across the board cuts to many programs, but SNAP is a key target. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities “altogether more than 10 million people, about 1 in 4 SNAP participants, live in households that would be at risk of losing food assistance benefits” under the Republican plan. At the same time, that same plan would let wealthy households making over $400,000 off the hook for paying their taxes by rolling back tax enforcement on the rich so that they don’t have to pay what they owe.
It’s a travesty to be making the rich richer while at the same time cutting benefits and increasing costs for working and middle class families that are already struggling to make ends meet because of factors beyond their control.
The price of eggs and meat products alone are expected to rise by 16.6% and 8.8%, respectively, this year. The loss of supplemental nutrition assistance in the midst of rising food prices will put even barbeque classics like hot dogs and potato salad out of reach for many Americans. Even basic bakery items like hamburger buns are projected to increase in price by nearly 10%. Add to the situation that wages are not keeping up with these escalating costs and lawmakers in Congress are refusing to prioritize policies that ensure everyone can afford the basics–that doesn’t give us much to celebrate and it’s certainly not the American way of life that millions of brave soldiers lost their lives to defend.
The truth is, we can do better. Costs are rising, but the United States is still a wealthy nation where affordable food, housing, and health care can be guaranteed for all if Republicans were to put the needs of their constituents ahead of their wealthy donors. After all, if the federal government can afford $3 trillion more in tax breaks for the wealthy, then it should be able to afford food, housing and healthcare for the rest of us.
Manufacturing a default crisis as a pretext for cutting services and benefits that average people benefit from and often need to get by is no way to honor the nation’s fallen veterans and no way to govern our country. Common sense dictates that the rich and corporations should pay a fairer share of taxes to reduce the deficit rather than forcing working families to go hungry.
We deserve policies that honor our veterans’ sacrifices and that ensures a secure and prosperous future for millions of Americans–and that is within our reach. It’s time for the GOP to stop playing partisan games and negotiate a fair deal that preserves the benefits and services hungry Americans need rather than continuing to give millionaires and billionaires big breaks at the expense of working families.