Federal Cuts to Food Stamp Program Hurt Children, Seniors and Disabled Most

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Posted Nov. 6, 2013

Interview with Michael J. Wilson, director, Maryland Hunger Solutions, an initiative of the Food Research and Action Center, conducted by Scott Harris

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The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the federal food stamp program suffered $5 billion in cuts on Nov. 1 when a post economic meltdown stimulus boost in funding expired. Nationally, about 47 million people who receive food stamps will see reductions in their monthly food subsidy. For an average family of three, the impact of the food stamp program’s first across-the-board cut in its history will result in $29 less each month, allotting $1.81 per meal – adding up to a loss of funds to buy 16 meals. Forty nine percent of food stamp recipients are children. And 87 percent of households that receive SNAP benefits are homes with children, seniors or the disabled.

Beyond the immediate impact on the nation’s poor, the ripple effect of the funding cut back will be felt by local retailers like grocery stores. It’s estimated that every $1.00 spent in food stamps generates $1.70 in economic activity in the communities where the funds are spent.

What worries many anti-poverty activists more than the recent loss of $5 billion is the specter of new, deeper cuts to SNAP. The Republican-controlled House has voted to slash the SNAP program by $39 billion over the next 10 years. The Democratically-controlled Senate has proposed $4.5 billion in funding reductions in the next decade. House and Senate conferees must now negotiate a compromise position on the SNAP budget, one that is likely to leave more Americans hungry. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Michael J. Wilson, of the group Maryland Hunger Solutions, who explains why federal budget cuts to the food stamp program, will hurt children, seniors and the disabled most.

MICHAEL J. WILSON: The good thing about food stamps is that it works the way it is supposed to work. When the economy is bad, food stamp use is high and more people use the program. And then as the economy recovers, fewer people use it, and the use goes down.

The problem with the (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) ARRA boost was that it was seen as temporary because everyone thought that four years later, the economy would have been better. In fact, it's somewhat better, but it's been such a lagging economy that there's still high unemployment, high joblessless and a lot of people who are still on food stamps, who utilize food stamps are working part-time and don't have enough hours or income to be able to cover all the basic expenses that they're faced with. And so, we at FRAC and Maryland Hunger Solutions and other anti-hunger groups around the country called on the country to restore that, to make sure the boost did not go down. It pretty much fell on deaf ears, unfortunately. It got lost in all the other conversation about the budget, about the cost, about things that were going on when we know in fact that the economy has not recovered enough for most folks to be able to really be able to move on, and get jobs and get income in a very, very difficult economy.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Michael, what will be the effect of this $5 billion cut to the SNAP, the food stamp program for an average family who depends a large on the supplement that food stamps provide?

MICHAEL J. WILSON: There'll be a lot of impact. First of all, the amount of the cut is about 5.5 percent. So for a single-family household, that might be as much as $11 a month. For two people in a household, as much as $20 a month. It's going to vary depending on your expenses, your deductions, your income, if you have income. So those are average numbers I would give you. Just take that average number. An $11 a month cut in food stamps for someone who doesn't get very much is still a significant amount.

As it is, people who are often on food stamps now, often find themselves not having enough income and food stamps to last through the entire month and that's why they end up going to food banks, churches, and synagogues and other places that can help provide other sustenance for folks in a really difficult situation. The other part of this is that it's going have drag on the economy when people can't spend that same amount on food. That's $5 billion that's going to be taken out of the economy that won't be spent at grocery stores and local stores and farmers markets and other places. It's just not going to get spent. That does not help the economy whether locally they're in Connecticut, here in Maryland or anywhere around the country. That's just an additional drag on the economy.

And the last part of that is that this is a cut that's coming the midst of a conversation about even broader and deeper cuts that the Congress is considering, which is just going to make things even worse.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Beyond this $5 billion in cuts to the SNAP program, there are deeper cuts in the offing with the Republican-controlled House proposing $39 billion in further cuts to food stamps over the next 10 years. And then the Senate, controlled by Democrats, proposes a lesser $4.5 billion in cuts over the next decade. Tell us what your big concern here is, how the negotiations between the House and Senate are going to come out, and what's going to be the likely impact for the poor and working poor who depend on food stamps?

MICHAEL J. WILSON: The first reaction that I have, is this is no time to be cutting SNAP. With unemployment still being very high, people having low wages, people not having enough hours – it's the gap between those who have and those who have not that is growing and so food stamps, I repeat, are working the way they're supposed to work now. There the high cost and the high usage because the economy is in a bad shape.

The second thing is, the cuts that you describe, $4.5 billion in the Senate, and it was not supported by all Democrats, by the way, and the $39 billion in the House which was not supported by any Democrats – it was only Republican votes that did that – is a disaster waiting to happen.

Already we've seen the cuts that happened last week. Just to give you an easy number to remember. If you take all the food done by all the food banks and all the churches all around the country, it's about $1 billion in a year. And so the $39 billion cuts (proposed cuts by the House of Representatives over the next 10 years) – which is roughly $4 billion a year, – if every food bank and every church doubled what they could do, and then doubled it again, they can make up for this difference – but they can't, and they know they can't and they've said they can't. They've said it to the public, they've said it to us. They say it all the time. That's not an amount they can make up. There's nothing that can make up for taking that much food sustenance out of the economy that isn't going to hurt people.

And the majority of folks who are on food stamps, the vast majority are either families with kids, they are disabled folks, and they are elderly people.

Maryland Hunger Solutions is an initiative of the Food Research and Action Center. For more analysis on Maryland Hunger Solutions, visit mdhungersolutions.org.

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