Veterans Day reminds us of our duty to support Americans who have served our nation in uniform. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices they’ve made and to re-examine the ways we can help them when they return home and re-enter civilian life. As we support them, we can certainly all agree that no veteran should go hungry.
Unfortunately, for too many veterans in New York and across the country, hunger remains a serious concern. That’s one of the reasons the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, is so important: It plays a critical role in helping veterans put food on the table. In fact, more than 64,000 veterans in our state use SNAP to help them and their families make ends meet.
But now this critical support is in jeopardy for tens of thousands in our state as Congress tries to reconcile two competing visions for SNAP: The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan farm bill that protects and strengthens SNAP while House Republicans are pushing their own version of a farm bill that would take away benefits from more than 2 million Americans and expand harsh SNAP work requirements. The House approach would be particularly devastating for veterans.
SNAP is one of the best anti-poverty programs in the country. It provides only modest benefits, $1.52 per meal per day, but it makes a big difference. By helping people afford groceries, SNAP lifted 8.4 million people — including 3.8 million children — out of poverty in 2015.
For low-income veterans, who may be struggling to find work, working in low-wage jobs, or have disabilities, SNAP provides an essential support. Veterans can face unique barriers as they try to rebuild their civilian lives. For example, some veterans have disabilities that make it harder find and keep a job. Research has found some households with veterans with disabilities are more likely to have trouble affording adequate food and other basic needs than those without people with disabilities.
Other aspects of military service also make it harder for veterans to find and keep a job. Young veterans who leave active duty often have little work experience beyond military service and searching for jobs while in the military can be challenging. Overall, young recent male veterans have higher unemployment rates and lower labor force participation rates than similar civilians. As a result, they’re more likely to struggle to put food on the table than their non-military counterparts. And while the Department of Veterans Affairs has programs to help veterans gain the skills they need for civilian employment and acquire stable jobs, they don’t always meet the standards of the expanded harsh SNAP work requirements contained in the farm bill passed by the House of Representatives.
SNAP is a critical lifeline, and it allows veterans to focus on what matters most — like reuniting and reconnecting with loved ones, finding a job, or addressing health challenges they may be suffering as a result of their service — rather than having to worry about where they’re going to get their next meal.
Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer along with many of their colleagues in the U.S. Senate understand that supporting veterans includes supporting SNAP. Earlier this year, senators passed a new bipartisan farm bill that protects SNAP and strengthens programs that can help veterans on SNAP get and keep a good-paying job. In contrast, the House of Representatives passed harmful changes that could cause some veterans to lose food assistance.
This Veterans Day, we can show our gratitude to New York’s veterans by supporting a program that helps them afford to put food on the table. And as Congress continues to negotiate a final farm bill, we can let our members of Congress know we want a farm bill that’s based on the Senate’s SNAP provisions, which guarantee SNAP will continue to help veterans in New York and across the country feed themselves and their families.
Ron Deutsch is the executive director at the Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonprofit research and education organization. Sherry Tomasky is the director of public affairs at Hunger Solutions New York, a statewide nonprofit organization.