"Tonight, 50 million Americans aren’t going to have enough food to feed their families," Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger said in a recent statement about the war House Republicans are currently waging on hungry families. He raises a good point: Every American has a right to food security, so why are we cutting the primary safety net for millions of people?
The cuts Republicans propose would gut $40 billion in funding from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a critical program that keeps the 46.2 million Americans who live below the federal poverty line from going hungry. One in 7 Americans currently receive SNAP (or "food stamps"). These cuts should be taken off the table, and SNAP should be fully funded as part of the farm bill.
House Republicans demonstrate a blatant disregard for hungry Americans at a time when the economy is still on the mend, and many Americans are underemployed or unemployed. Those who will suffer most from these cuts are are children, who make up 47% of those on food stamps. What's worse is 1 in 10 households in traditionally Republican House districts receive SNAP benefits.
The proposed $40 billion in SNAP cuts is equivalent to cutting nearly all of the charitable food distribution nationwide from churches and food banks over a 10-year period. Community- and faith-based anti-hunger efforts will not be able to make up for this massive of a cut.
Additionally, there are serious problems with the proposed reforms to SNAP. New work requirements within the proposal would end waivers for areas experiencing extremely high local unemployment rates. People with limited education or skills, already struggling to find work, would lose SNAP benefits except for three months out of every three years. Traditionally a work requirement for federal assistance means a person must be actively looking for a job and must accept any job offer they are given. However, under this new proposal, SNAP benefits would end after three months regardless of the level of unemployment in the area, even if the beneficiary is actively looking for a job, or is active in a training program. Bob Greenstein of the Center for Policy and Budget Priorities has called it "a draconian benefit cut-off that’s dressed up as a benign 'work requirement.'"
"Proponents imply that any of these people who want a job can get one," Greenstein said. "They don’t explain where four million new, largely low-skilled jobs will suddenly come from. The economy is now creating only 150,000 to 200,000 jobs a month — not much more than needed just to keep up with population growth — and these SNAP recipients don’t qualify for many of them."
Republican attempts to paint SNAP participants as lazy and unwilling to work are inaccurate. 92% of SNAP recipients are children, elderly, disabled, or already working. The bottom line is the vast majority of SNAP recipients that are physically able to work earn wages do so. People often turn to SNAP in times of underemployment, such as when a two-income household becomes single income. This bridge program allows those families to stave off food insecurity and care for their children. Among SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, more than half work while on SNAP and 80% worked in the year prior to or find work the year after receiving benefits from the program. That crucial before/after SNAP number is at almost 90% for families with children. It's clear that SNAP is a short-term supplement to help keep their families from going hungry while experiencing unemployment or underemployment.
Republicans appear to be living under the illusion that having a job means one doesn’t need food stamps. For a growing number of workers, having a job is not enough to stop food insecurity. The number of SNAP participants who are working while receiving SNAP has tripled in the past decade. SNAP is designed not only as a safety net for the unemployed, but also as a way to fight hunger among low-income workers. The high level of work among able-bodied adults on SNAP indicats that SNAP is succesful in serving that purpose. And people aren't scamming the system — in fact, SNAP is an effectively run federal program with fraud at the low rate of 1.3%.
SNAP has grown significantly since 2008, but only because it is designed to rise and fall with American prosperity and to serve Americans who become food insecure during difficult economic times. The Congressional Budget Office has predicted that as the economy continues to recover the number of SNAP recipients will lessen as they transition out of underemployment. SNAP has no demographic pressures, unlike programs like Medicaid or Social Security, so it does not create long-term fiscal problems or significantly contribute to the nation’s debt. In fact, the proposed $40 billion in cuts only represents 0.086% of projected spending over the 10-year appropriations period.
These cuts are morally repugnant. The bottom line is that SNAP is an effective, efficient program that keeps helps keep the 46.2 million American living below the poverty line from going hungry in the face of food insecurity. In one of the richest countries in the world, we can afford to feed our citizens. What we can't afford is for any American child to go hungry, even for a day.