Opinion

Don’t trim SNAP aid

We are sometimes — to be honest, often — disappointed when our elected officials, in the name of frugality, are loathe to spend money on what we think are worthwhile causes that the state can indeed afford.

But it is even more disappointing when they back away from money they don’t have to initiate the taxes to collect. The state’s leaving on the table Medicaid dollars that would have insured thousands of low-income North Carolinians under Obamacare is a prime example.

Now, the state Senate, in a provision in its budget passed last week, but which escaped notice until recent days, has voted to end food assistance to an estimated 133,000 people. The assistance comes under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), once known as food stamps.

The federal government fully funds the program. The recipients in question earn more than the normal cutoff for SNAP, but under “broad-based categorical eligibility” are entitled to the benefits because they receive other government assistance.

Sen. Ralph Hise of Mitchell County, who spearheaded the budget change, thinks it is “a loophole that ballooned under the Obama administration allowing people to qualify for food stamps even they wouldn’t otherwise be eligible because they have valuable assets or savings in the bank.”

Others see the program as a way to assure that recipients — more than 51,000 of whom are children — get needed food assistance. Some 2,062 of those children are in Durham County and 482 in Orange County. “A significant portion of the children who would lose SNAP benefits would also lose their free or reduced school lunch,” advocacy group NC Child said in a press release.

“No child should go hungry in North Carolina, yet hunger remains a serious issue for 1 in 5 children in our state,” said Rob Thompson, senior policy and communications adviser for NC Child. “Children need food to grow strong, to stay healthy, and to thrive at school. Losing access to food assistance at home and at school hurts Durham county kids and jeopardizes their long-term development.”

Hise sees the change as making the system fairer. Its opponents see it as another blow to people already struggling.

Eliminating the benefit “is additional stress on families who are already stretched incredibly thin, not sure where their next meals will come from,” said Jessica Whichard, spokeswoman for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, which expects more requests for emergency food aid if the Senate provision survives into the final budget.

North Carolina taxpayers are going to be paying for this program anyway. North Carolinians in need of food assistance should benefit from it.

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