Congress has recessed for the holidays without reaching a deal. House Speaker John Boehner thought he had the votes to approve his “Plan B,” a proposal that is supposed to prevent America from falling off the fiscal cliff. But just like last year, after an acrimonious back and forth discussion with President Obama, the Republican leader was unable to get his caucus to back his plan. This is déjà vu all over again, especially when it comes to Boehner's proposal on social services like food stamps.
Boehner’s Plan B proposal included a number of measures that targeted social safety net programs. The plan eliminated the Social Services Block Grant (Meals on Wheels) and renewed efforts to go after food stamp recipients. The misguided emphasis on food stamps will not balance the budget but it will put hundreds of thousands of children at risk. As we try to climb our way out of this economic downturn, attacking the program that has worked best to provide temporary relief is short-sighted.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP — formerly the Food Stamp Program) is an efficient and effective social safety program. The program provides support for families with needy children, the elderly, and the disabled. While it is true that the number of eligible people on SNAP has increased to record levels — 48 million at last count — the service primarily consists of support for families with children. “75% of SNAP recipients live in households with children.” The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that “after unemployment insurance, SNAP historically has been the most responsive federal program in assisting families and communities during economic downturns.“
The Boehner plan designed to avoid the impending threat of sequestration included a controversial cut that would have removed 300,000 kids from food stamps, and another 300,000 kids would have been removed from Medicaid. The proposed cuts appear short sighted. Economists have argued that SNAP benefits actually stimulate the economy. An oft reported analysis by Moody Analytics states that as a form of economic stimulus, SNAP benefits were “the most effective, increasing economic activity by $1.73 for every dollar spent.”
Some Republicans are using food stamps for political gain. Just like with the “myth of the welfare queen” some Republicans have used food stamps as a metaphor for personal irresponsibility to fight against Obama's policies. During the Republican presidential primary, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called President Obama the “food stamp president.” At the time, many felt this was an example of the “southern strategy” not seen since former President Reagan enthusiastically endorsed it by labeling needy families as “welfare queens.” That strategy failed in 1976 and it failed in 2012, but some Republicans still feel that this is the way to address social safety net programs.
Hopefully after some time at home and some eggnog, Boehner and his team will return to Washington and leave “Tiny Tim” alone.