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Independence Day: No Time to Forget Hungry Vets

SNAP coordinator Beth Zambia talks with a veteran at the Soldier On shelter in Leeds. At least 26,000 low-income veterans rely on SNAP benefits in the Commonwealth. Courtesy: Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.
SNAP coordinator Beth Zambia talks with a veteran at the Soldier On shelter in Leeds. At least 26,000 low-income veterans rely on SNAP benefits in the Commonwealth. Courtesy: Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.
July 1, 2015

BOSTON - As Massachusetts gets ready for Independence Day, local hunger-fighting advocates say it's a good time to remember tens of thousands of veterans in the state who must rely on federal benefits to put food on their tables.

While most people have been making summer plans, says Pat Baker, senior policy analyst at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, the House Agriculture Committee in Congress has been conducting a review of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

"We can't leave behind the people who've made those freedoms, defended them, and those are the veterans," says Baker. "Many of them fall on hard times - often they're struggling with homelessness, mental illness - they need the benefit as much as every other citizen in the country."

Baker says at least 26,000 veterans in the Commonwealth depend on the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps.

Mary Loughlin, nutrition program manager for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, says SNAP makes a major difference to veterans at places like the "Soldier On" shelter in Leeds.

"There are folks from the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there also are Vietnam vets," she says of the shelter residents. "SNAP is a resource that they can use to allow them to focus on their recovery, job training or job-hunting, or whatever they're working on."

As the nation celebrates Independence Day, Baker says she hopes lawmakers who are evaluating the program keep in mind that one in five households that visit food pantries includes a low-income veteran or current U.S. service member.

"We are worried that the SNAP program is being looked at as a potential funding source, for either tax cuts or other programs," Baker says. "And this is absolutely the most essential program, and the first response to hunger, in the country."

While the timetable for any action in Congress is hard to predict, Baker says the anti-hunger community is being vigilant and will continue to stand firm against SNAP program cuts.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - MA