In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided a much needed increase in funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. However, that temporary increase in benefits will expire in November. This upcoming loss of funding has some people worried, especially since Congress is currently considering further cuts.
SNAP remains a rather popular and effective program. According to a new poll by the Food Research and Action Center, 70% of voters are opposed to cutting SNAP benefits in order to reduce spending. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) recently posted a series of Facts on SNAP, and their analysis shows:
- SNAP provides a modest benefit to families with very low incomes, with two-thirds of recipients being elderly, disabled or children. (In Oklahoma, the CBPP reports that 75% of SNAP families include children and 26% are families with elderly or disabled members.)
- SNAP families are largely working families, and of the households with able bodied adults, 58% are working when they receive SNAP and 82% work within a year of receiving SNAP.
- SNAP is also efficient, with the rate of error and overpayment at an all-time low.
- The size of the SNAP program is designed to grow and shrink based on the rate of poverty and unemployment, and because of this design it quickly responded to the needs of low-income families during the recession.
Cuts in funding due to the expiration of the Recovery Act alone will mean that the nearly 17% of Oklahomans, or approximately 652,000 people, who currently receive SNAP assistance will see a decrease in benefits. The state is expected to see a loss in funds totaling around $46 million from November of 2013 to October of 2014 according to the CBPP. What does this mean for the average individual who relies on SNAP to supplement his or her grocery budget?
The CBPP has projected the nationwide average assistance of $1.50 per person per meal will fall to about $1.40 per person per meal after the Recovery Act increases expire. Right now the average benefit per meal, per person in Oklahoma is only $1.43, so cuts may leave families in the Sooner state with per meal benefits below the nationwide CBPP projections
And SNAP is still not safe from further budget cuts. Both houses of Congress are currently hammering out competing versions of a farm bill that would cut SNAP funding. According to NPR, the House bill, if passed, would cut SNAP by $2.5 billion a year. The Senate version is not as harsh and would only cut funding by $400 million a year. It is anyone’s guess at this point where a compromise between the House and Senate versions will leave overall SNAP funding.
So in a worst case scenario, say the House version’s $2.5 billion cut becomes a reality. How many people will get cut from the program? According to some estimates, the House’s proposed cuts could mean 2 million people will lose their SNAP benefits entirely. The House proposal would remove a state’s ability to use SNAP funds to aid individuals who have gross assets above the federal limits but disposable income below the federal poverty line. It also restricts programs meant to simplify the application process. These changes would mean seniors on fixed incomes could be severely impacted. It could also eliminate the eligibility of 210,000 children who currently qualify for free school lunches.
These proposed cuts are a serious threat to the food security of millions of Americans. But we also need to keep in mind the cuts already made to other social programs such as housing assistance, services that help the elderly, and Head Start programs. The poor in America are seeing the budgets for multiple resources slashed, not just SNAP. Several seemingly small cuts can quickly add up to a huge drop in funding for social programs overall. Taken together, these cuts will hold back the financial recovery for many poor, working class families who are trying to rebuild after years of recession, layoffs, and foreclosures.
- To read the August 2013 update on SNAP funding, click here.