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United Way Blog

The Safety Net Steps Up When the Economy Slows Down

This article from today’s New York Times offers a peek into what’s happening to an increasing number of American families in today’s economy. While the story focuses primarily on the National School Lunch Program,  the same stories could be shared about Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps) as well. The story goes like this – as the American Middle Class continues to struggle in today’s economy, more and more of us – particularly those of us who had never previously needed public assistance – are turning to Safety Net to provide the essentials for their children and families.

So as an increasing number of families turn to the Safety Net for assistance, federal spending goes up. “Entitlement” programs like Medicaid, CHIP, SNAP and others are counter-cyclical. That is, spending on entitlements goes up as the economy goes down. They are specifically designed to serve families who fall into eligibility during down economic times not only to provide for these families in difficult times of need, but also to stabilize the economy and our nation overall.

But the root of our problems is not so much that federal spending has gone up for the Safety Net – spending on the Safety Net is both a symptom of the real root problem AND part of the solution. Rather, during a time of unprecedented wealth and a widening wealth gap, the root of our problem is that more and more Americans are struggling and working hard in an economy that simply isn’t working for them.

So while our leaders battle over a grand solution to today’s economic stratification, United Way advocates to maintain and strengthen the Safety Net that is keeping an increasing number of American families afloat. CHIP provides health care for children whose families earn too much to be eligible for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private health insurance on their own. And the Emergency Food & Shelter Program (EFSP) is an extraordinarily flexible program that can help families with rent, utilities, food and other staples in their time of need.

Please support these vital federal programs by contacting your Members of Congress through liveunited.org  today, and ask them to protect and strengthen these key programs. It’s a start.