SNAP READER | 22 SEPTEMBER 2103

In thinking about writing a piece on the SNAP battle going on in Congress, I put together some of the most interesting stuff I’ve read this week. I thought I’d share it.

LAWMAKERS “REPRESENTING” MOST OF THE HUNGRIEST COUNTIES VOTED TO CUT SNAP
Environmental Working Group

If you live in one of America’s 100 hungriest counties, there is a one-in-three chance that you rely on food stamps.

There is also a pretty good chance that your member of Congress just voted to kick you off food stamps.

And, if you live in Haywood County, Tennessee, or Shannon County, South Dakota, you can be sure your representative not only voted to kick you off food stamps but also voted to give him- or herself more farm subsidies.

Sadly, two-thirds of the 39 legislators who represent America’s 100 hungriest counties voted yesterday to cut funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, by $40 billion over the next ten years.

What’s more, the same legislators voted last month to increase unlimited subsidies for the largest farm businesses at a time of record farm income.

FOOD STAMP FIGHT: GREAT FOR GOP BASE. NOT GREAT FOR OUTREACH
Frank James | NPR

President George W. Bush isn’t fondly remembered by progressives for much. But anti-hunger advocates credited him during his administration for strongly supporting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (the formal name for food stamps) and other policies to help unemployed or low-income workers and their children escape the fear of not knowing where their next meals would come from.

Under Bush, . When I fairly early in the Bush administration, they were already praising Bush for doing more than President Clinton to directly respond to the food insecurity crisis affecting many people.

SNAP NOTES
Paul Krugman | The New York Times

To the extent that there’s any rational argument here at all, I think, it rests on the observation that while SNAP enrollment did fall during the boom of the 1990s, it was flat or rising during the expansion of the middle Bush years. This supposedly shows that the program’s use was being driven by things other than economic factors.

But there’s a crucial point such analyses miss: the “Bush boom,” such as it was, never did trickle down to lower-income Americans — the kind of people who might use food stamps. Here’s a chart comparing income, in 2012 dollars, at the 20th percentile (left axis, inverted) with the percentage of the population on SNAP:

 photo incomesandsnap_zpsf0140464.png

The Clinton expansion led to a substantial rise in incomes near in the lower part of the distribution, and was accompanied by a sharp fall in SNAP usage. The Bush expansion never did reach many Americans, so it’s no surprise that SNAP use didn’t fall. And then, of course, SNAP use surged in the crisis, which is what is supposed to happen with a safety net program.

MORE SNAP JUDGEMENTS
Paul Krugman | The New York Times

Spending as a percentage of GDP was no higher in 2007 than it had been in 1990. It then soared when we experienced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression — which is exactly what should have happened. True, spending didn’t fall during the Bush-era economic expansion, but as I’ve already explained, that expansion didn’t trickle down to the people who use food stamps.

You also want to bear in mind that we used to have another major poverty program — AFDC — which was replaced with TANF, which has virtually withered away. In 1990, spending on AFDC was 0.3 percent of GDP; by 2011, it was down to 0.07 percent of GDP. So food stamps were, in effect, picking up some (but only some) of the hole left by the end of traditional welfare.

THE FACTUALLY CHALLENGED MORALLY QUESTIONABLE ASSAULT ON FOOD STAMPS
Jonathan Cohn | The New Republic

The 2002 and 2008 laws re-authorizing food stamps streamlined enrollment, eased the asset test, and made other changes that both boosted benefits and boosted participation. Conservative publications are full of anecdotes that suggest food stamps are fostering dependency and, I’m sure, some beneficiaries live up to stereotypes of lazy people living on the dole. But the percentage of SNAP recipients who are working has actually risen steadily for two decades. It’s up to about half. (See the next graph.) And the program’s design actually arguably encourages work, for reasons the Center on Budget details:

the SNAP benefit formula contains an important work incentive. For every additional dollar a SNAP recipient earns, her benefits decline by only 24 to 36 cents — much less than in most other programs. Families that receive SNAP thus have a strong incentive to work longer hours or to search for better-paying employment. States further support work through the SNAP Employment and Training program, which funds training and work activities for unemployed adults who receive SNAP.

More generally, 95 percent of SNAP participants have incomes below 130 percent of the poverty line, or about $30,000 a year for a family of four. Forty-four percent have incomes that are less than half the poverty line, or about $12,500 for a family of four. SNAP doesn’t seem plagued by waste or fraud, either. Ninety-two percent of the program’s funding goes to actual benefits. A 2011 report from the General Accounting Office found that program errors, including both people getting too much assistance and people getting too little, affected less than 4 percent of recipients.

See also:
Jonathan Chait – REPUBLICANS: WE WERE TOO NICE TO THE HUNGRY, BUT WE FIXED THAT
Center for Budget and Policy Priorities – CUTS IN HOUSE LEADERSHIP SNAP PROPOSAL WOULD AFFECT MILLIONS OF LOW INCOME AMERICANS

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About Marc Brazeau

Free lance cultural attaché. Writing at REALFOOD.ORG.

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