The White House Really Wants More Money for Food Stamps
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is the federal government’s most important tool for fighting poverty; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is letting Americans go hungry.
That’s the long and the short of a new report on SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, published by the White House on Tuesday, which highlights the successes of the nutrition assistance program and points out its shortcomings following across-the-board cuts to benefits in 2013 and a budget that was slashed in the 2014 farm bill. As the Food Bank of New York City reported this month, SNAP recipients have showed up at soup kitchens and food pantries in greater numbers over the past two years to try to find food to bridge the gap between when one month’s benefits run out and the next month’s kick in. According to the White House report, the so-called hunger gap can result in a 10 to 25 percent decline in caloric intake as the month drags on.
The effects of such food shortages can reach well beyond the experience of hunger—there are long-term implications for health and success too. For example, according to the report, adults who grew up in a household that received food stamps when they were in utero and during childhood had an 18 percent greater chance of graduating from high school and were 16 percent less likely to become obese later in life. In 2014, 15 million children across the U.S. benefited from the program.
While the report does more to make the case for raising benefits than presenting new data, it comes as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., is once again discussing turning federal entitlement programs into the block grants that would be run by the states. While the initial funding for such a state-centric approach would be equal to the current federally run social-safety-net programs, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive think tank, noted in July that eight of 11 block grant programs established between 1981 and 1992 have seen reductions in funding; in some instances, budgets have been cut by as much as 60 percent.
But Ryan and other Republicans who would like to both cut and reform SNAP don’t bear the sole responsibility for reductions in benefit payments—the Obama administration and congressional Democrats are responsible for the unprecedented across-the-board cuts to SNAP benefits that happened in 2013. In what was then a seemingly benign bit of creative math, stimulus money that was used to increase SNAP funding as the Great Recession pushed historic numbers of Americans onto food stamps was borrowed to pay for part of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The president said that the cuts would be reversed, but the Democrats lost control of the House during the midterm elections that year and were left without the votes to keep $5 billion in SNAP funding from disappearing in 2013—and a further $6 billion that will be phased out in 2015 and 2016.
The White House report concludes that “the current level of benefits often cannot sustain families through the end of the month, and new research has linked the gap in food access to high-cost consequences—including increased hospitalizations among adults with diabetes and disruptions in learning among school-aged children.” But while the report makes an excellent case for increasing that funding, publishing it is about all the administration can do to try to get the lost funding restored.