GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- As proposed cuts of 25 percent to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program's (SNAP) funding looms in the 2018 federal budget, at least 15 percent of Michiganders are food insecure and depend on this program formerly known as food stamps.
“A lot of people are paycheck to paycheck and if, let’s say you get a big bill, you need it that month and the fact that [food assistance is] there is important," said Molly Kooi,
Kooi is a mother, full-time employee and undergraduate student who says food assistance is critical. She is one of seven Michiganders at risk of becoming hungry and using SNAP.
"When you look at the amount of the budget that would be cut just for Michigan, you’re talking about $3.8 million annually, and that affects many of the people in Kent County," said Shannon Blackmon-Gardner, Vice President of Community Impact with Heart of West Michigan United Way.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, SNAP is the most important anti-hunger program in America. In 2016, the average monthly SNAP benefit per household member was $123.
"So you’re talking about $1.40 per meal," said Blackmon-Gardner.
Between 2009 to 2012, SNAP kept 326,000 Michiganders out of poverty, according to CBPP. And Moody's Analytics estimates that one dollar in SNAP benefits generates $1.70 in economic activity.
Many Michigan lawmakers tell FOX 17 they credit Double Up Food Bucks for helping families strengthen their SNAP dollars:
"One of the things that we’ve worked on hard was Double Up Bucks in terms of farm vegetables, farm to table kind of opportunities," said Governor Rick Snyder, R - MI. "And that’s an opportunity to help people in need have access."
"In cases like Flint where there’s significant lead poisoning, it’s absolutely critical to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables; it’s the only way to mitigate the lead, is with nutritious fresh foods," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D - MI.
Double Up Food Bucks started in Detroit in 2009 and is now available in at least 18 states: it allows SNAP recipients to buy $2 worth of fresh produce from participating farmers markets and grocery stories for $1 in SNAP benefits.
"I advocate for programs that make sure food dollars stretch further, such as Double Up Food Bucks, and policies that support local food pantries," said Rep. Winnie Brinks, D - Grand Rapids.
"I encourage you to call your state lawmakers and tell them to support these efforts too."
It's a successful program that would effectively decline, alongside many others, if the SNAP cuts are approved.
"If those cuts that are planned actually go through, then we’re talking a demand of services that we can’t fill," said Blackmon-Gardner.
Blackmon-Gardner calls it a "snowball effect" that would increase demand in other programs like housing, healthcare and education.
"If people don’t have access to good nutrition, we can’t expect them to do well in school, to excel at their jobs; it’s really a fundamental issue," said Andrew Steiner, former Communications Director now volunteer with Feeding America West Michigan.
"You need to have food security in order to have a flourishing community."
The cuts would affect many of our neighbors, like Kooi.
"[Food assistance] is necessary for some people," said Kooi.
"There are some people that just can’t do it with the cards they’ve been dealt, they just can’t. And I was one of those people when I was on maternity leave and I still am now."
As these proposed cuts linger in Congress, here is another way to put things in perspective: SNAP currently has an annual federal budget of $71 billion. In 2016, Feeding America West Michigan served some four billion meals nationwide, which accounts for about 10 percent of what SNAP benefits provide.
September is Hunger Action Month where FOX 17 partners with Feeding America West Michigan to raise awareness about hunger insecurity as well as get neighbors involved. If you would like to donate, volunteer or advocate see resource lists here.