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Editorial: Food-stamp cuts too steep

Volunteer Dawn Dolibois (left) Chicago asks food pantry client which can vegetables she wants SalvatiArmy Norridge . |  Ryan

Volunteer Dawn Dolibois (left) of Chicago asks a food pantry client which can of vegetables she wants at the Salvation Army in Norridge . | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 27, 2012 6:12AM

At a time when it seems the whole nation is battling obesity, how serious could a 6 percent cut in the food-stamp program be?

As it turns out, very serious.

In the farm bill passed by the U.S. Senate, $4.5 billion would be trimmed out of the $77 billion annual food-stamp program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The House wants an even bigger cut.

But at a time of great unemployment, that would take us in the wrong direction. Even at full funding, SNAP doesn’t go far enough.

A 5.8 percent bite from a partly empty plate looks pretty big to the person who isn’t getting enough to eat.

According to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, one in six residents of Cook County — that’s 807,000 people — already experiences food insecurity, which means they can’t always be sure where their next meal is coming from.

For children 18 or younger, that statistic is more than one in five. And now that school is out, tens of thousands of families are grappling with a new problem — their children won’t get regular school meals again until classes resume at the end of summer.

While in Chicago earlier this month, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said only 8 percent of those using SNAP also get welfare benefits. The other 92 percent are people who are working or who are retired but just can’t make ends meet. Forty percent of SNAP beneficiaries are children.

The USDA is exploring ways to encourage people to get more nutritional benefit from SNAP, which is a worthwhile effort.

But simply trimming benefits won’t get us there.

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