MISSOULA — President Donald Trump released his proposed budget Tuesday, which includes major cuts for federal welfare programs that support low-income Montanans.
The budget seeks to cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funding (more commonly known as food stamps) by $192 billion over the next decade. In Montana, about 122,000 people benefit from the federally funded SNAP program. If realized, Trump’s budget would shift the burden of funding SNAP to states.
“The impact of that would be absolutely devastating,” said Lorianne Burhop, chief policy officer for the Montana Food Bank Network. Her office distributes food to about 140 agencies around the state for eligible low-income Montanans. Burhop said Montana’s state budget is already strained, and she doesn’t think it could absorb the costs of running SNAP on its own.
In Montana, SNAP provides about $1.30 per person per meal, which can only be spent on groceries. That amount is already modest, Burhop said, and if the state were to take over funding, it would have to drop people from the service, tighten eligibility requirements, and cut benefits.
“Eligibility is already strict,” Burhop said. “By cutting benefits or tightening eligibility, you’re increasing hunger in the state.”
In a statement released Tuesday, the Montana Food Bank Network urged Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., to reject Trump's proposed budget:
"Instead of providing support and opportunity, these cuts will push low-income Americans farther down the economic ladder by tearing down the safety net that provides a path out of hunger and poverty. We in the emergency food system would not be able to fill in the gap created by the cuts proposed in this budget. Instead, we can expect to see increases in health care costs, decreased productivity in the workforce, and worse academic outcomes for the next generation.”
Every county in Montana has SNAP recipients, nearly half of whom are children. As of January, 13,581 people in Missoula County used SNAP. The program brings about $170 million into Montana every year, which is spent at local grocery stores and farmers markets.
Cuts to SNAP would also place a heavier burden on the Missoula Food Bank, which might be the only option for people if they lose SNAP benefits. The Missoula Food Bank gets most of its funding from donations, and only received $103,938, or 2 percent of its revenue, from federal or state dollars in 2016.
Missoula Food Bank Executive Director Aaron Brock said cutting SNAP funding would shift the burden from the government to local donors. Demand is already growing — between 2015 and 2016, food bank visits increased by 9 percent. Brock expects this to continue should Trump’s budget cuts pass.
Missoula’s high housing cost is the main reason people visit the food bank, Brock said, and last year nearly 20 percent of Missoulians visited at least once for emergency groceries.
“It’s not like we’re talking about us and them,” Brock said. “You can’t walk down the street and not interact with people who are reliant on SNAP or the food bank or other resources in order to make ends meet.”
Gov. Steve Bullock issued a statement Tuesday opposing Trump’s proposed budget.
“Ripping essential services away from thousands of hard-working Montana families and millions of Americans in order to give tax breaks to millionaires and corporations is unacceptable and un-American,” he said. “This budget would destroy investments in jobs, education, infrastructure and health care, and have devastating impacts on rural states like Montana. Montanans, and all Americans, deserve better.”
Missoula’s food bank runs on donations and volunteers. Brock said that generosity is “this community’s response to a profound need.”
Norman and Phyllis Wight started volunteering at the food bank about six months ago. They wanted to use their free time for something positive. Norman said he didn’t want to comment on Trump’s budget, but he said the Missoula Food Bank is very important.
“They feed people,” Wight said, resting against a box of apples. “People gotta eat.”