Proposed Cuts Could Boot 12 Million People off Food Stamps
This is not supposed to be a year for food stamp politics. As part of the farm bill, an omnibus measure that Congress (theoretically) reauthorizes every five years, the latest battle of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program appeared to have been settled last year, when the farm bill passed with $8.7 billion in cuts to food stamps—far less than the $39 billion proposed by the House version of the bill.
The farm bill won’t be up for reauthorization for another four years, but the House hasn’t lost focus. It hopes to slash the food stamp program once again in a budget passed on Wednesday that would cut the program’s funding by more than a third—$125 billion—between 2021 and 2025. Within that five-year window, the cuts could force up to 12 million people to be dropped from the program every year, according to analysis from the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy institute. If state administrators decided to spread the pain and reduce benefits for everyone instead of dropping people from the benefit altogether, they’d likely see a drop of $55 per month during those years—to a benefit that averaged $133 per person in 2013.
How would it work? Instead of a federally run program, the House proposes switching over to a block-grant system, giving states the cash and the wherewithal to distribute it to hungry residents however they please—except local government would be working with far less.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and various charity organizations have spoken against the block-grant plan, which does not feature in the Senate’s version of the budget. A letter from 10 antihunger groups, including Feeding America and Share Our Strength, reads, “The draconian cuts and structural changes being proposed for SNAP would devastate one of our nation’s most successful and important domestic programs.” For his part, Vilsack said the block-grant system would lead to a “confusing crazy quilt of efforts in nutrition.”
In the wake of the Great Recession, SNAP rolls reached historic highs as unemployed and underemployed Americans turned to the program for help to get through difficult economic times. While the size of the SNAP budget remains a significant portion of the farm bill—80 percent—there is extensive evidence that the program works. According to the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities report, food stamps kept 4.8 million people living above the poverty line in 2013. On the cash side of the socioeconomic impact of the program, each SNAP dollar spent has been shown to generate nearly twice as much economic activity, and the long-term benefits of good nutrition represent a significant boon, especially for children. According to the Urban Child Institute, if a kid is food-insecure between infancy and the age of three, he or she has a 76 percent greater chance of having behavioral, cognitive, or language development problems.
Yet the budget, which includes a total of $5.5 trillion in cuts—two-thirds of which come from programs for low-income people—is how the House wants to deal with what is widely considered to be a key issue in the 2016 presidential race: income inequity.