A sign announcing the acceptance of electronic Benefit Transfer cards at a farmers market in Roseville, California. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
As expected, Republicans in the House of Representatives passed a measure Thursday night that cuts nearly $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. If signed into law, the bill would push at least 4 million people off food stamps over the next ten years, including many poor and unemployed Americans.
In case you haven’t been following the extensive food stamp debate in Congress this year, here’s the basic rundown: Republicans proposed a farm bill in the spring with deep food stamp cuts: about $20 billion dollars over ten years. That wasn’t enough for hard-core conservatives, who helped kill the bill in June while demanding deeper cuts.
So Thursday night House leadership came back with double the reductions, and passed it this time.
The Republican argument is based on the premise that food stamp funding has exploded over the past few years mainly because people are ripping off the system, and mainly because the “food stamp president,” in the nomenclature of Newt Gingrich, is letting them.
Said Representative Rick Crawford, a Republican from Arkansas, on the House floor Thursday: “Throughout the Obama presidency, we’ve seen the food stamp program grow exponentially because the government continues to turn a blind eye to a system fraught with abuse.”
But that’s just not true. The program has a rigorous payment error oversight program; 98 percent of SNAP benefits were issued to eligible households in 2011. Food stamp use, and thus expenditures, boomed because of the great recession:
And the program is scheduled to reduce outlays all by itself over the next several years, as the economy recovers:
Still, Republicans press on. Aside from plain fraud, the GOP argument is that lazy folks who just don’t want to work are taking advantage of the program. Even if some people technically qualify, they’re probably using the program as a crutch instead of finding work.
“When did America trade the dignity of a job for a culture of permanent dependency?” asked Representative Mike Cramer of North Dakota yesterday. He then theatrically read a passage from Theodore Roosevelt’s autobiography: “ ‘We knew toil and hardship, hunger and thirst. But we felt the beat of the hearty life in our veins because ours was the glory of work, and the joy of living.’ Madam president, I say let’s encourage the dignity of work again, and let’s pass these modest reforms.”
Once again, there’s a complete disconnect from reality. The average daily food stamp benefit is about $4 per person per day, and if you think that paltry amount isn’t enough to keep people from seeking work, you would be right:
Specifically, Republicans are cutting the program by instituting so-called “work requirements.” For a lengthy debunking, read Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The short version is that SNAP already kicks people off benefits after three months if they aren’t employed or in a job-training program. But the law also allows governors to waive these requirements, and forty-five governors, both Democrat and Republican, have done that in recent years—since we are in the middle of one of the worst economies in modern American history. The House bill passed last night simply ends all such waivers.
The real kicker is that many people aren’t in job-training programs because states don’t have enough slots—and the House budget and appropriation bills also cut funding even further for job-training programs.
In short, Republicans want to cut $40 billion from SNAP because of waste that isn’t happening, and because people are failing to find jobs that don’t exist. They also want to cut job-training programs, and then cut people’s food stamps because they are unable to enroll in job-training programs.
This is no small deal—SNAP benefits lifted a record number of people out of poverty in 2012:
And finally, it’s worth noting that for all the paeans to the virtues and dignity of hard work emanating from the House floor yesterday, here is a running counter of how many jobs bills the Republican House has passed:
Sasha Abramsky on the Census Bureau’s latest poverty figures.