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Community Response: Proposed Debt Ceiling Bill Will Increase Hunger

The proposed debt ceiling bill will increase hunger and poverty for tens of thousands low-income Washingtonians. It expands the failed policy of work reporting requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). These programs are critical lifelines: SNAP helps low-income people put food on the table; TANF helps families with children living in deepest poverty have essential work support services and limited cash assistance to help pay for rent, utilities, diapers, transportation, clothes, and other essentials.

The debt ceiling bill expands SNAP work-reporting requirements for up to 700,000 very low-income, older adults, despite their own limited job opportunities. Yet these requirements make it more difficult for low-income people to find and keep jobs, provide for their children, or care for aged or disabled family members. These policies take food off the table of those who grapple with deep structural barriers to stable employment. 

The debt ceiling bill also includes a strict spending cap for all non-defense domestic programs. Spending cuts impact programs that serve the general public good – from national parks to food inspection to environmental protections to education. For anti-poverty programs, spending caps keep funding at levels that are already insufficient to meet increased need. These programs are essential to communities across our state to help food banks stock their shelves, to offer housing and utility bill assistance, and to provide nutrition for pregnant and postpartum parents, infants, and young children through the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. For WIC, the spending cap likely means waitlists for essential food assistance, or cutting back their monthly budget for fruit and vegetables to just $8 per child and $13 for an adult. 

These policy changes will do little to reduce the deficit, but will do plenty to increase the anxiety that so many are already experiencing over where their next meal will come from. Recently, University of Washington researchers found that half their survey respondents are experiencing hunger. Nationally, the number of people reporting they sometimes or often did not have enough food to eat in the last 7 days has grown to more than 25 million people. The increased hardships will be felt hardest by Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color, who face higher barriers to steady employment. And the costs of perpetuating these inequities will cost more in the health problems caused when people can’t meet their basic needs like food.

Unfortunately, defaulting on our debts would cause loss of benefits, job losses, and higher long term economic costs for countless millions of Americans. We are livid that these policy changes are being considered when the right thing to do is to pass a clean debt ceiling bill and then resume budget discussions through the regular appropriations process. Notably, the deal on our nation’s debt does nothing to make our tax code more balanced or ensure the wealthiest people and companies pay their fair share so that we can afford services for the public good.

We are deeply dismayed by leaders who say that these changes are manageable or that they will not increase hardship. This is tone deaf to the anguish we hear from hungry people every day. So we urge the Biden Administration and Congress to speak truthfully: defaulting on our debts is not an option, but this deal will increase hunger and harm vulnerable people – and we must do better. 

Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition
Economic Opportunity Institute
Faith Action Network
Food Lifeline
Northwest Harvest
Nutrition First
Partners for Our Children
Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness
Statewide Poverty Action Network
United Way of King County
Washington Budget & Policy Center
Washington State Community Action Partnership
Washington Low Income Housing Alliance