Opinion: The food stamp fiasco
On Thursday, September 19, 2013, the House of Representatives passed a measure that would cut $40 billion over 10 years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or more commonly known as the food stamps program. The measure passed by a measly seven votes, mostly along party lines where the Republicans voted for the sharp reduction while Democrats called the measure “draconian.”
When the recession was in full swing, the federal government relaxed the eligibility guidelines for food stamps, making it so that an additional 4 million Americans could collect food stamps even though they were previously disqualified.
According to estimates, the bill would cut these additional 4 million people next year and for every year after that, an additional 3 million would be cut from the program. In defense of this sharp reduction in benefits, Republicans cite the rising cost of the program, totaling over $82.5 billion for this fiscal year (which actually is only 2.2% of the federal budget). They claim that cuts to benefits will push Americans back into the labor market instead of being reliant on welfare.
This argument, however, is inherently flawed. Although there are indications that the economy is rebounding, we are still nowhere near pre-recession economic growth. There are still millions of Americans struggling with poverty, and food stamps are integral to keeping people out of poverty. It has been shown that due to food stamps, 4 million American’s were kept above the poverty line and millions more were prevented from falling further into the clutches of extreme poverty. In fact, if the economy is really rebounding as much as some congressional leaders claim, then the food stamps program should be downsizing without government intervention. If the food stamps program is left unchanged and the economy continues to grow, food stamp recipients should decrease by around 30% (14 million Americans). Furthermore, food stamps have actually been shown to increase economic growth. For $5 spent on SNAP, there is $9 worth of economic activity. All of these statistics and figures aren’t some ultra-liberal heap of biased numbers; they come straight from the horse’s mouth: The Congressional Budget Office.
Beyond the numerical costs of the cut in food stamps, there is a distinctly human cost. About half of those receiving food assistance are children. Children who have no way to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and leave poverty, as the Republicans think people will do without food stamps. How will this 10-year plan affect the 22 million hungry children in America? There is no real way to tell, but cutting food assistance programs cannot be good for the poor. Thankfully there seems to be little Senate support for this drastic reduction in spending, and the White House has threatened to Veto the bill, if it passes in the Senate.