Update: The House voted to approve the massive cuts to the SNAP program.
This week, we are likely to see one of the most historic and dramatic shifts in the U.S. government’s policy on nutrition and nutritional supplements—and none of it for the better. Conservatives in the House of Representatives are set to vote to cut an estimated $40 billion nutritional supplement programs such as food stamps.
Nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps, have for decades been included as part of the annual Farm Bill—the legislation which oversees much of agricultural policy in the United States. This past summer, however, congressional conservatives inserted an amendment creating superfluous work requirements to the SNAP program, killing Democratic support and causing the the agricultural and nutritional components of the legislation to be split up. Subsequently, the agriculture portions were successfully passed, while the nutritional programs designed to assist low-income families lift themselves out of poverty were left on the chopping block to be debated another time.
The vote is scheduled for later this week. The estimated $40 billion cut would be devastating. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities is estimating that roughly 5 million low-income Americans will be dropped from the programs, with no viable alternative in place for them to turn to. Private charities in several states (see here and here for comments made in May, 2013, when the cuts were estimated at only $20 billion) are warning that they do not have the capacity to handle the additional needs.
Here are some things you should be aware of: First, the SNAP program is one of the most efficient methods of both economic stimulation and decreasing poverty. Low-income families instantly generate commercial and tax revenues when they spend their SNAP benefits, and by temporarily shouldering the burden of a family’s food expenses, Food Stamps give that same family the opportunity to get their feet under them during periods of economic hardship. According to the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, SNAP generates $9 of economic activity for every new $5 dollars that is spent on the program, nearly a 2-1 ratio.
The claim being made by conservatives to justify the $40 billion in cuts over the next 10 years, is that SNAP and similar nutritional supplement programs are rank with fraud and wasteful spending. This talking point has been repeatedly regurgitated across the national and local media by conservative elected officials, convincing a good portion of the American populace that it is fact.
This continued demonization of welfare programs points toward the institutionalized and historical opposition of the Right Wing toward assistance for U.S. citizens who have fallen behind the curb. Despite the recent recession—the devastating economic effects of which are still being felt most keenly by those on the bottom—supplemental assistance programs are still viewed by many leading conservatives as “easy targets,” with no consideration for the horrendous impacts cuts to such programs will have on children and families. There is also no consideration for the ever-growing gap between the super wealthy and the average American, which is currently at an all-time high.
But for those willing to look behind the curtain, it becomes quickly obvious that such is not the case. After so many claims were circulating about improper high-dollar payouts in programs like SNAP, the Office of Inspector General audited the programs and released their report in August of this year. According to that report, the opposite of the conservatives’ claims was true. There were zero improper high-dollar payouts emanating from nutritional supplement programs like Food Stamps.
By comparison, the audit found that subsidies for crop insurance, which is strongly supported by congressional conservatives, paid out $14.6 million in improper high-dollar payouts.
It is unclear what will happen after the House vote this week. The Senate has already passed its version of the legislation, which makes $4 billion in cuts to the SNAP program over the next decade in an attempt to find some middle-ground with the lower chamber. If House conservatives do vote to cut the estimated $40 billion, the two bills will have to be somehow reconciled.