By Evan Brandt
Published: May 2, 2018
POTTSTOWN >> Danielle Gadsden, 41, is feeding one 19-year-old, one 16-year-old and two toddlers, and it was hard enough when her government food aid dropped by $185 per month.
She fears the farm bill now being considered in Congress will make a bad situation worse.
So that’s why Gadsden — who works part-time in the food pantry at the Pottstown Area Cluster of Churches and shops there as well — was standing in Smith Family Plaza downtown Tuesday evening, holding a paper plate on which the question “why are my children hungry?” was written.
She was part of a small demonstration comprised of a baker’s dozen protestors gathered by the Coalition Against Hunger to alert the public to the cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program they say will be included in the farm bill now under consideration in Congress.
“I will do anything so my children don’t go hungry,” said Gadsden.
Known as SNAP, the food program was once more familiarly known as “Food Stamps” and it is vital to helping feed nearly 140,000 people in Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties, said Kathy Fisher, policy director for the Coalition Against Hunger.
According to information provided by Fisher, the bill would add improvements in job training, but would also include “aggressive work requirements” that will ultimately cost more to implement than they would ave.
“The Congressional Budget Office’s 10-year-cost estimate shows SNAP benefits cut at $23.1 billion while SNAP benefits enhancements at just $5.8 billion, meaning that cuts are nearly four times as high as improvements,” according to Fisher’s information.
The bill “will increase hunger and hardship,” she said, noting that the group had gathered to suggest to his constituents that they ask U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, R-6th Dist., to vote against the bill when it comes up for a vote.
“I contacted his office yesterday and a staffer told me he hasn’t made up his mind yet,” Fisher said.
She said Democratic House members Brendan Boyle and Dwight Evans have already signaled their opposition.
A similar bill is moving through the Senate and even though Pennsylvania’s Sen. Bob Casey Jr. sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee, “they’re telling us they don’t have much information yet,” said Fisher.
A May 1 letter to Pennsylvania’s House delegation signed by 22 anti-hunger organizations points out “the president’s budget proposal to slash SNAP by nearly 30 percent will hurt our communities and harm every type of SNAP participant, including the elderly, individuals with disabilities, low-income working families with children and those struggling to find work.”
Data from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, USDA, the U.S. Census and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that 66 percent of those receiving SNAP benefits are children, seniors and people with disabilities.
Furthermore, those enrolled in SNAP are also more likely to access health benefits as well, spending $1,400 less on annual medical costs than low-income adults who do not use SNAP.
There is also a larger economic impact than many realize, said Glenn Berman, executive director of Philadundance, which supplies many food banks in the area including the Pottstown Cluster and food pantries in Chester County.
He said SNAP means more purchases in grocery stories in poorer areas where, without that activity, stores would close and create more and larger “food deserts” than already exist in low-income communities.
“A drop in SNAP benefits will hurt retailers,” Bergman said.
In all, the economic return on SNAP benefits is “between 1.6 percent and 1.7 percent. SNAP is an economic driver.”
A cut in benefits will leave the hungry poor with few options other than food pantrys, like the ones Philabundance supplies.
“More free food is not the answer,” he said, doubting that the region’s food pantries could handle the increase in hungry people.
He also disputed claims that people who received food assistance are not working.
According to Bergman, “62 percent of the households which get food from Philabundance have at least one person in the household working, and often more than one.”
Ryli Meyer knows all about that.
Now a social worker at the Pottstown Cluster, which feeds 120 families each week, Meyer was 12 when her father died, leaving her month to make do for her and her twin brother.
“She did everything they want you to do. She went back to school online, while working a full-time job during the day and some hours at night and we would not have eaten every day without SNAP,” Meyer said.
When she followed in her mother’s footsteps and went to college, she needed SNAP to make ends meet, even while also working 20 hours a week.
“Now I’m a social worker, working at the Cluster and I can tell you, people need this program to eat every day, and feed their children,” Meyer said. “You can’t cut it.”