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I’m not a big fan of using sports as a metaphor for life’s challenges.  But since we’re coming up on the biggest U.S. sporting event of the year this weekend, please allow me to bow to the convention. 

Thanks to certain candidates, SNAP (formerly food stamps)  has become a political football in the ongoing presidential primary.   It shouldn’t be. There have been some very well-articulated editorials defending the program, critical of those who politicize it.

FRAC recently released results of a poll indicating  broad support of SNAP, transcending party lines.

Criticism of the SNAP program shouldn’t be a vote generator. There are 50 million great reasons SNAP shouldn’t be a political football.  But it is.  And now that it is, I’m wondering if the hunger advocacy community has its best game plan in place.

We’re great at offense. We can cite statistics, now broken down to the county level, detailing the need in this country.  We offer up heart-rending stories of those affected by food insecurity.   We know, and when we get a chance, we can tell the story of hunger in America.  We can move the ball quickly down the field.

I’m not certain our defense is so well-executed.  SNAP critics run two plays that seem to keep them in the game:  They claim SNAP is rife with abuse and fraud–with undeserving people gaining access to the benefits.  They claim the system cultivates dependency in its beneficiaries. There are people of good faith who buy into both of these claims.  Quite often hunger relief advocates tend to sit on the sidelines by not responding directly to these criticisms.

The fact is, both of these myths have their genesis in reality, as distorted as the critics render it.  There are some people who get SNAP benefits, who probably shouldn’t be getting them, even though that number is microscopic compared to the recipients truly in need.  There probably are people who are dependent, though that percentage is also small, and the cycle of dependency is exacerbated by factors far more complex than simply receiving SNAP benefits.

My concern is that by not responding effectively to these claims, we give critics an open field.

As SNAP funding is being debated in the upcoming Farm Bill, we’ll need to have a great playbook to counter these critics.    Should we respond to critics, or simply focus on a strong offense?

I have some thoughts.  I’ll wait ’til next week to post.

Photo Flickr Creative Commons.  by  Tom Newby Photography