This guest opinion to the Idaho Statesman was authored by Karen Vauk, president and CEO of The Idaho Foodbank; Landis Rossi, executive director of Catholic Charities of Idaho; and Mary Chant, executive director of Community Action Partnership Association of Idaho. It appeared Feb. 26.
In response to Dan Popkey’s article published Jan. 25: “If Obama’s the ‘food stamp president’ what’s Otter?”
We applaud Gov. Butch Otter’s choice to eliminate the asset test at a time when Idaho families struggled most. While it can be easy to pass judgment and stereotype, it is a special grace to feel compassion for others. We applaud the compassion of Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Canyon; and Reps. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls; Sharon Block, R-Twin Falls; and Christy Perry, R-Nampa, as well as their understanding of the depth and breadth of economic issues that put families in the position of making such difficult choices.
Who are food stamp recipients in Idaho? They are the children in your child’s class, the elderly gentleman sitting next to you at church, the single parent working two jobs to provide for her child and the family whose only income is unemployment benefits.
The food stamp program helps families, children, people with disabilities, seniors and others in need put food on their tables. According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, about 235,000 Idahoans receive food stamps: 48 percent are children, 9 percent are disabled adults, 3 percent are elderly and 40 percent are adults with and without children (43 percent of whom have some kind of earned income).
Fraud and abuse represent a very small portion of the food stamp program. It is also difficult to measure but the national rate is approximately 1 percent and it is believed that Idaho’s rate is comparable. We trust that Health and Welfare will continue to improve the integrity of the program through effective program controls and improved methods to identify, investigate and stop misuse without creating access issues for those who are eligible.
It does not make sense to increase regulations or decrease benefits when the majority of food stamp recipients follow the rules and use the benefit as it is intended to be used.
Food stamp recipients must meet eligibility requirements including but not limited to citizenship, household income and assets. Only U.S. citizens and certain qualified legal immigrants can receive food stamps. Undocumented people have never been eligible.
The food stamp program is a nutrition assistance program and is not designed, nor does it provide enough assistance, to be the only source of food and nutrition for recipients. In Idaho the average food stamp recipient received $130 a month, averaging $1.44 per meal. Benefits may be used to buy only food items for consumption; alcohol, tobacco and non-food household items are excluded.
The individuals and families requesting services from our organizations are not system abusers. They are proud Idahoans struggling to meet their basic needs and forced to turn to nonprofit, faith-based organizations, and government to ask not for a handout, but for help through their economic struggles. Catholic Charities of Idaho, along with Community Action Partnership organizations, The Idaho Foodbank and hundreds of our community partners, work cooperatively to provide cooking and nutrition education programs, financial literacy education and employment and educational opportunities that support low-income families in an effort to reduce poverty in Idaho. Programs such as food stamps allow our organizations to focus our efforts on education, employment and resource management that permanently change a family’s future.
Idahoans are proud people who value family, faith, community and independence. We are also people of compassion. In a time when so many are struggling from the effects of economic, emotional and spiritual poverty — offering compassion, without judgment, is more important than ever.