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Originally published Friday, September 13, 2013 at 6:04 PM

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Guest: Proposed cuts to food stamps devastating

The food-stamp program has already been eviscerated. Don’t cut more, write guest columnists Shelley Rotondo and Paul Benz.

Special to The Times

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THE U.S. Department of Agriculture currently ranks Washington as the 15th hungriest state in the nation. Ours is a state rich in resources and praised for innovations in charitable giving and the delivery of social services.

Despite these advantages, Washington state is also the home to 1.1 million people who need food-stamp assistance. According to our state’s Department of Agriculture, 1 in 5 residents needs help from a local food bank.

It’s why anti-hunger advocates such as Northwest Harvest and the Faith Action Network strongly oppose efforts to slash the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps.

As evidenced by so many people hitting rock bottom, there are already dangerous cracks in our crumbling social-services system. Those cracks would only widen as Congress takes steps to further erode the food-stamp program, our first line of defense against hunger.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., wants to cut the program by $40 billion over the next 10 years. This cut would translate into millions of meals in Washington as working families with children and seniors on fixed incomes lose significant portions or even all of their benefits.

Even without this bill, the table is already set for those who must rely on food stamps to eat. It’s just scraps.

Even if Congress doesn’t act on this unconscionable and misguided bill and does nothing at all, food-stamp benefits will plummet on Nov. 1, when the average recipient’s aid will fall to less than $4 to buy food each day.

Cuts like these are proposed too carelessly. They assume that charity can and will pick up the slack. Bread for the World, a national anti-hunger organization, states that private churches and charities would have to nearly double their current food assistance to make up the difference.

We are here to answer back: Charity cannot do this work alone.

For every 24 bags of food that feed the hungry, only one is provided by charity. The rest is provided by government assistance. Last year, Northwest Harvest filled that one bag with 27 million pounds of food, distributed by a statewide network of emergency-food providers that has seen a 40 percent increase in need since 2008.

That need that has not decreased despite a much-touted economic recovery. Over the same period, our emergency-food network has experienced a decline in contributions of food and money from the private sector as businesses and individuals have had to tighten their belts to stay afloat.

Charities and faith communities are working on the leanest of budgets to help those struggling to make ends meet.

To prevent the cracks in our system from growing into a chasm, we need our partners in government to do their part by strengthening the food-stamp program, creating jobs and supporting the services that help low-income individuals and families meet their basic needs.

Tell your member of Congress that cutting the federal food-stamp program is not the way to prevent hunger in our state and nation.

Shelley Rotondo is CEO of Northwest Harvest, a nonprofit hunger-relief organization. The Rev. Paul Benz, an Everett-based Lutheran minister, helps direct Washington state's Faith Action Network.

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