The recession and high unemployment rates have been difficult for many families. Luckily programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, has helped struggling families put food on the table and feed their children to keep them healthy. More than 20 million children are enrolled in the SNAP program and depend on the program for at least a portion of their total daily nutrition. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2010, children were food insecure at times during the year in 9.8 percent of households with children (which is 3.9 million households). Many struggling families have barely enough money for housing, food, and medical care and if it weren’t for programs such as SNAP, the School Meals Programs, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, many children would have to go without adequate nutrition and health care.

In addition to combating hunger, the SNAP program improves nutrition. SNAP ensures families have the resources to afford not just enough food, but more nutritious food and provides nutrition education about how to shop for and prepare healthy meals on a limited budget.

The SNAP program provides eligible families with monthly benefits through an electronic benefits transfer. SNAP eligibility is limited to households with gross income of no more than 130% of the federal poverty guideline, but according to the USDA, the majority of SNAP households have income well below the maximum: 85% of SNAP households have gross income at or below 100% of the poverty guideline ($22,350 for a family of four), and 62% of SNAP households have gross income at or below 75% of the poverty guideline ($16,762 for a family of four). The current amount of monthly benefits is actually an increase from the normal SNAP benefit, thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as “the Stimulus.” If Congress doesn’t act, the current ARRA increase will end in November of 2013; this means that a family of four will see a decrease of around $80 in their monthly benefits.

Not only is providing nutrition assistance the right thing to do to help struggling families and children that are food insecure, but SNAP makes good economic sense as well. According to the USDA, for every dollar put into the SNAP program, $1.79 is returned to the community. This is good for business and good for jobs in towns and cities across America.

Starting today, through November 6th, my colleagues at First Focus will be joining the Fighting Poverty with Faith initiative by taking the “Food Stamp Challenge” where participants live for 1 week on the average food stamp allotment of $31.50 (approximately $1.50 per meal). My colleagues will blog about their experiences on First Focus’s website throughout the week, and include policy recommendations on how we can learn more about SNAP and battle food insecurity in America.

If you’d like to join the Food Stamp Challenge please click here.