SNAP is NOT “Wasteful Spending” as the GOP would have you believe

Every five years, Congress passes a bundle of legislation, commonly called the "Farm Bill" that sets national agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and forestry policy. The last Farm Bill was passed in 2008, and expires in 2012.

The current iteration of the “farm bill” is S3240, which represents the most significant reforms in agricultural policy in decades.  As passed (Vote 164) by the Senate, the bill would cost just under $1 trillion over the next 10 years, financing dozens of price-support and crop insurance programs for farmers and food assistance for low-income families. It would end direct payments, streamline and consolidate programs. Plus, it would reduce the deficit by $23 billion. It would also strengthen top priorities that help farmers, ranchers, and small business owners continue to grow our economy.

S3240 may be know as the “farm bill,” but a majority of the spending under this bill is devoted to the food stamp program.  Once the bill got to the House, their first order of business was to increase cuts in the bill to $35M instead of the $11B in cuts identified and passed by the Senate.  The bill should be before the house on July 11th. Those deeper cuts have been signed off by both Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and ranking member Collin Peterson (D-MN).

So let’s look at the cuts that affect the working poor.  While the Senate cut only $4B from the food stamp program (SNAP–Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), the House version cut more than $16B from SNAP.  Than means that 45% of the proposed cuts are coming out of the mouths of the truly needy by changing the rules through which a family might qualify for assistance.  The House version:

  • Requires that recipients must receive “welfare” (TANF–Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) to “automatically” qualify for SNAP
  • Closes a “loophole” that allowed families who qualify for heating assistance to automatically qualify for SNAP

The kicker is, that if a family’s assets (SNAP asset limit of $2,000) drives them slightly over the “categorical eligibility” mark (with say a car that allows them to get to work or the store), they’ll still be living in poverty, but they’ll be ineligible for any SNAP assistance.  The CBPP (Center on Budget & Policy Priorities) estimates that the Lucas-Peterson version of the Farm Bill which ends “categorical eligibility,” would deny assistance to approximately 2-3 million people, some of whom are currently receiving assistance.

According to the CBPP, the proposed cuts would cause significant hardships for millions of low-income families, in that,

  • The bill would terminate SNAP eligibility to several million people.  By eliminating categorical eligibility, which over 40 states have adopted, the bill would cut 2 to 3 million low-income people off food assistance. 
  • Several hundred thousand low-income children would lose access to free school meals.  According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), 280,000 children in low-income families whose eligibility for free school meals is tied to their receipt of SNAP would lose free meals when their families lost SNAP benefits.
  • Some working families would lose access to SNAP because they own a modest car, which they often need to commute to their jobs.  Eliminating categorical eligibility would cause some low-income working households to lose benefits simply because of the value of a modest car they own.  These families would be forced to choose between owning a reliable car and receiving food assistance to help feed their families.

Instead of working to strengthen our economy, the Republican-led House has instead, decided it’s necessary to rein in costs on the backs of the poor.  If they actually did their job to strengthen the economy, millions of the working poor might actually earn enough money such that they no longer needed the temporary assistance.

History demonstrates that SNAP caseloads and expenditures fall after unemployment and poverty fall, as CBO’s recent report on SNAP notes.  SNAP caseload growth already has slowed dramatically; in fact, over the last six months (through April 2012, the most recent month for which data are available), SNAP participation has declined slightly.  According to CBO, in the years ahead the share of the population that participates in SNAP will fall back to 2008 levels.

According to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, which counts SNAP as income, SNAP kept more than 5 million people out of poverty in 2010.  SNAP also lessens the severity of poverty for millions of others; if SNAP is counted as income, it lifted 2.5 million children above 75 percent of the poverty line in 2005, more than any other program.

SNAP is NOT contributing to our long-term budgetary problems, yet the GOP–led House has framed it as the evil of all evils, and as such, must be curtailed and/or eliminated completely.  I’m not buying it, and the present-day GOP’s revolting values are not the values of the nation in which I was raised.

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