While the numbers of people receiving food assistance through the USDA SNAP program (formerly known as food stamps) are growing, funding is set to be cut, if a bill passed by the House makes its way into law. It comes down to budget priorities, and is a preview of the "austerity" we will be seeing from federal and state governments as they try to mitigate the costs of the financial crisis and the weak economy we are all grappling with.
In New York state, people are eligible for food stamps if their income is less than about $14,000 for a one-person household, and about $30,000 for a household of four. Here's a link to an article in the NY Times about people with no cash income other than food stamps.
Yesterday I wrote about how the SNAP has grown in the past few years (see that post here). My colleague Mark Thoma followed up on the topic, wondering how food stamps would fare in the proposed rollbacks of federal spending declared by House Minority Leader John Boehner (Republican, Ohio). (See Mark's post here.)
Mark closes by posing:
Given all the worries Boehner and others have expressed about the bad incentives that social insurance creates, worries that are not supported by the empirical evidence on this question, is this one of the programs that would be on the chopping block? I wish a reporter would ask him that question.Well, Mark, I'm a reporter, after reading your note I did ask, or at least tried to. I called Rep. Boehner's press people, and they switched me over to his staff. (They call him "The Leader.") I left a message, and it's been several hours but there has been no call back, and I don't expect one. In my experience politicians don't like to answer questions, they prefer to make statements, such as this one where The Leader derides recent efforts to restore jobs:
Right now, America's employers are afraid to invest in an economy stalled by 'stimulus' spending and hamstrung by uncertainty. The prospect of higher taxes, stricter rules, and more regulations has employers sitting on their hands. And after the pummeling they've taken from Washington over the last 18 months, who can blame them?I've written on this before -- there is no evidence that tax cuts leads to stronger job creation. Moreover, both the Reagan and Bush 43 tax cuts were accompanied by huge increases in government spending.
Anyway, I wasn't able to reach Rep. Boehner's people, but here's what has already happened in the House, two weeks ago, as the Democrats who still are in the majority try to spur the economy with the shrinking funds available, and deal with the political will of Republicans:
This afternoon, the House, reconvened for a special emergency vote, passed a $26.1 billion bill providing aid to cash-strapped state governments. The bill provides $16.1 billion in Medicaid funding and $10 billion to help states keep teachers on the payroll.
To pay for the bill - Republicans refused to cross the aisle unless the bill was entirely deficit-neutral - the Senate resorted to some controversial cuts...
[M]ost controversially, it took $12 billion from future Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, funding. Senate aides stress that the cut does not cut the benefits authorized in the most recent Farm Bill. It takes from expanded benefits created in the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Feb. 2009 stimulus.
But the cut means that for the first time ever food stamps might have a "cliff": Families will receive a smaller check in April 2014 than they received in March 2014. A family of four might see their benefits decline by $60 a month [from the current average of $520].
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) has spoken out against the cut to SNAP. "This is a bitter pill to swallow," DeLauro told The Hill. "I fought very hard for the food assistance money in the Recovery Act and the fact is that participation in the food stamps program has jumped dramatically with the economic crisis, from 31.1 million persons to 38.2 million just in one year." DeLauro said she will attempt to restore the SNAP funds, though she has not specified how.