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Editorial: No cuts to food stamps

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | SEPTEMBER 19, 2013 5:00 AM

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The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 increased benefit funding to all recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which distributes food stamps. Unless Congress acts, on Nov. 1, the added food assistance will expire and benefits will return to pre-2009 levels.

Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives are also considering legislation that would pile on even more cuts to the program — $40 billion over the next 10 years. This move by House Republicans comes because of concerns over growing program costs.

According projections from the Congressional Budget Office, SNAP is currently expected to spend $764 billion from 2014 through 2023.

Granted, SNAP is an expensive program, but it’s an essential one for millions of vulnerable Americans who depend on food stamps.

A data summary from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed that as of 2011, nearly half of all participants in SNAP were minors and about 9 percent were over age 60. Eighty percent of all households receiving food stamps had a member who was elderly or disabled. These are hardly the kind of people who can easily support themselves.

The households that receive these benefits, for the most part, are truly poor by any standard. Most households with SNAP assistance did not receive any cash welfare benefits in 2011 and only 17 percent of them had incomes above the poverty line.

If the boosted funding to SNAP expires in November, that will mean that benefits from food stamps will average under $1.40 per person per meal in 2014, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Analysis.

As it turns out, most households are not chronically food insecure, the United States Department of Agriculture reports. Rather, many households go in and out of food insecurity on a regular basis.

Nationally, food insecurity spiked in 2007 when the recession began, shooting up to around 14 to 15 percent of households, where it has remained ever since.

Food insecurity was also much higher than the national average for several disadvantaged groups. One-fifth of all homes with children were food insecure, along with around 35 percent of households headed by single women and 24 percent of households headed by single men.

Even though there may be a lot of people currently on food stamps, that number is expected to decline as the economy slowly improves, according to data from the Congressional Budget Office. Historically, the number of people on food stamps and program costs usually rises with the unemployment rate, as data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and USDA show.

Not only is SNAP a valuable program, but it’s also extremely efficient. Payment Accuracy, a government-run website reports that SNAP has improved its improper payment rate in distributing food stamps to an all-time low of 3.8 percent as of 2012.

Compared to other benefit programs, SNAP makes mistakes in its recipients much less frequently. The Earned Income Tax Credit has an improper payment rate of 22.7 percent, the National School Lunch Program was at 15.5 percent, and several other programs made mistakes at a higher rate than SNAP.

Allowing increased food-stamp aid to expire in November is utterly nonsensical. It defies economic common sense and unnecessarily punishes the most vulnerable in society who have found themselves in lousy circumstances through no fault of their own.


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