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The Republicans in Congress are hell-bent to slash budget deficits by gutting entitlement programs. Food stamps, which provide food to the poor, are an entitlement, so the GOP wants to replace them with block grants to the states. But taking food from the mouths of hungry children to balance the budget is wrong. The federal government, meaning all of us together, has a moral duty to feed Americans who are hungry, even when that strains the federal budget.

If we can't do that, or are unwilling to do that, in the midst of America's bounty, then this nation is more than financially bankrupt. It is morally bankrupt.

An entitlement means that anyone who is entitled to a benefit gets it. That is why spending for entitlements is difficult to control. A block grant, by contrast, would provide a fixed amount to a state, and the state would decide how to spend it. If the fixed amount fell short of what was necessary to provide for all the people who qualified, the state would have to decide how to ration the benefit. It could, for example, set up waiting lists.

The Republicans are right that the budget deficit is a serious matter, and that everything should be on the table. So let's discuss what food stamps mean to Utahns.

First, they're not called food stamps anymore. Rather, the program is called the Supplemental Nutrition Action Program, or SNAP.

The number of Utahns served by SNAP has doubled since 2007 to 278,400, according to Utahns Against Hunger. There's a simple reason for that 100 percent increase: the Great Recession. Roughly 1 in 10 Utahns now gets SNAP.

But that's what you would expect during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, right? And that's the good thing about an entitlement; it expands with the need. As the economy recovers and more people are employed, reliance on SNAP will go down. That's what has happened in the past.

The problem with a block grant is that it could not expand as the need for emergency food aid rises. Utah's growth in SNAP clients since 2007 has been the fourth-highest among the states in percentage terms. That has happened despite the relatively lower unemployment rate here. Because Utah has more children per household than any other state, it also means that about 60 percent of the people being fed are children.

That's why SNAP should be an entitlement, to feed the poor in a crisis. To do otherwise would be unconscionable.