The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, known affectionately (or otherwise) as the stimulus bill, was aimed to help the U.S. economy heal from the wounds wrought by the 2008 recession. In it was a laundry list of funding targeting a number of critical areas, or those deemed worthy of federal investment. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known to most as food stamps, was among the programs that received a boost – to the tune of 13.6 percent. That increase expired at the beginning of November, and there is talk of further – and far more drastic – cuts. It is the wrong place to look for federal savings.
There are 47 million Americans who receive food stamps, at a cost of $78.4 billion in 2012. That is not insignificant in terms of the funding commitment, but it is even more important for those who receive the food benefits. Those individuals and families are living with limited means – at or below the federal poverty line – and children are disproportionately reliant on food stamps for their nutrition: More than 45 percent of SNAP recipients are children, while another nearly 20 percent are elderly or disabled Americans. The expiration of the stimulus increase will mean fewer meals for more children starting this month. That alone is troubling, but the cuts are not likely to stop there.
In fact, there is an egregious debate taking place as Congress attempts to update the Farm Bill – where SNAP funding is located. The House and Senate are proposing big cuts to the food-stamp program – problematic from a humanitarian, social safety net and education perspective – but the scale of those passed by the U.S. House of Representatives is outrageous. There, lawmakers proposed – and passed – a $40 billion decrease in SNAP benefits in a 10-year period. The Senate’s $4 billion cut looks tame in comparison. Neither is acceptable.
There are many factors that contribute to individuals and families living in poverty, and there is great need for systemic approaches for addressing those factors. In the meantime, you cannot starve people into success. There are millions of families across the country – and thousands here in Southwest Colorado – for whom the guarantee of a warm, filling meal is elusive. It has a ripple effect into employee performance, student success and family relations. It is abhorrent to consider placing at further disadvantage a population that already is at significant risk, facing formidable challenges.
There is no argument that the federal budget could use trimming, and the Farm Bill itself is a place to look for reduced spending. Focusing those cuts on the neediest Americans, who have the fewest prospects for addressing those needs is absolutely inappropriate.
There is a great distance to travel between the House and Senate versions now under consideration in Congress, and in that journey there is an opportunity for lawmakers to do what they can, should and must for those who have neither the voice nor the means to advocate for their most basic needs. Food-stamp recipients need the assistance they receive. Congress must look elsewhere for cuts.