Farm Bill food stamp cuts hurt nation’s poor

It is painfully obvious that too many elected officials in Washington, D.C. have lost touch with the struggling people of this nation. This was demonstrated recently when House leaders proposed a Farm Bill that would have cut aid to food stamp (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients by a whopping $20 billion over a 10-year period.

The Senate version, supported by Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, cut a more manageable $4 billion from SNAP during the same period. Although the measure failed in the House, it stands as a stark reminder of how unbalanced thinking can be in Washington when it comes to “solving” the struggles of this nation’s poor.

The House may debate the Farm Bill again before September, but it will likely contain significant cuts to SNAP. That’s bad news for millions of U.S. families who are using the program as a bridge to survival.

The Farm Bill has a great impact on the fate of an estimated 47 million Americans who are receiving food stamps. The $20 billion in cuts identified in the $940 billion House version would have eliminated food support for an estimated 2 million Americans. The lion’s share of the Farm Bill deals directly with food assistance programs for people who qualify.

These are people who have gone through the same pains that have ravaged most Americans during the last five years as gas prices have soared, and many of the most common food products have experienced price increases. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8 of the 10 most common food products have experienced price increases in the last five years.

For the middle class, the struggles have come in the form of belt tightening, perhaps through the loss of a family vacation, delaying the purchase of a new car or fewer dollars to put toward retirement.

For the nation’s poor, the last five years have been devastating, with fewer opportunities for jobs because of high unemployment, and a month-to-month scramble to pay the rent and avoid hunger pangs.

Although it’s easy to keep poverty in the rearview mirror or omitted from our personal environment, the reality is that it affects 1 in 10 people in our state. There are hundreds of public school teachers throughout Minnesota who routinely send food home with needy kids because they are afraid they won’t eat again until they return to school.

While it is true that as a nation we must get spending under control, doing so at the expense of those who can least afford it, especially at a level proposed by the House, seems reckless. As Congresswoman Betty McCollum said, it may even be considered, “immoral, cruel and harmful.”

In Minnesota the cuts would have affected an estimated 30,000 people. Currently, 1 in 10 Minnesotans receives SNAP benefits, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That is roughly 551,000 Minnesotans.

Just within the 12 counties where ECM Publishers operates newspapers, there are 221,700 people receiving SNAP assistance, with an average monthly benefit being about $232 per household. These people are not invisible. They are moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, and thousands of children who rely on adults to keep them fed.

Although there is logic behind having the food stamp program attached to the Farm Bill by creating a partnership between farm interests and urban consumers of food, it may be time to separate the two, so Americans can truly see where Congressional leaders stand on these two important issues. The House bill totaled 629 pages. Food stamps and nutrition constituted $750 billion of the $940 billion plan.

Opponents will point to the food stamp program as an enabler, allowing freeloaders to slip through without contributing to society. There will always be people who attempt to “work the system” but the overwhelming majority of recipients take no joy in accepting assistance.

In fact, in households with children who receive food stamps, 62 percent had at least one adult in the workforce in the month that they received support. And in the year prior to or the year immediately after a family with children received food stamps, 87 percent had one adult in the workforce. This hardly paints a picture of participants who want to remain on the program without working.

Critics also often point to widespread fraud among participants. Ever since EBT cards were implemented to track purchases electronically, the USDA estimates that 96 percent of all transactions are accurate.

If spending cuts are to be made all Americans may need to bear some burden, but leaders must do better with future nutrition spending proposals in the Farm Bill and not make a dire situation for our nation’s poor seem even more hopeless.– An opinion from the ECM Editorial Board.

  • Flambeau

    Is the adjective “Whopping” really necessary when you are referring to $20B out of a $940B bill or 2.1%? If so then “Piddly” would be the term I would recommend to describe the $4B or 0.4% figure being proposed by Franken & Klobuchar rather than the “more manageable” phrase for which you have opted.

    You say this “stands as a stark reminder of how unbalanced thinking can be in Washington when it comes to solving the struggles of the nation’s poor.”

    I think the starkest reminder of the unbalanced thinking in Washington is the trillion dollar deficits this country has been running for the past 5 years and the $17 trillion current national debt. These have been wracked up precisely due to the fact that people like you along with the politicians that you elect cannot conceive of the possibility of reducing expenditures in any way or for any reason.

    Consider that in 2005 the Federal Government spent $33B on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and there were 26 Million people participating. In 2011 the Federal Government spent $78B and there were 45Million people participating. You cite a figure of 47 Million people participating currently.

    So this program has more than doubled in size over the past 8 years – presumably due to the economic crisis. What are we to make of Franken & Klobuchar’s proposal to effectively fund this program at its current level for the next ten years? That would seem to imply that despite all the claims that the Federal Government regularly makes (including Franken & Klobuchar) about the economic recovery and job growth they really don’t expect any improvement in things for at least the next decade.

    The ECM Editorial Board apparently shares this view.

    Even though the program has grown by 21 Million participants since 2005 the Board considers it “Reckless” and agrees with Betty McCollum that it may be considered “immoral, cruel and harmful” to think that over the next ten years we might expect the economy to improve enough to enable 2 Million of that additional 21 Million to get their feet under them and get to the point that they would no longer need the SNAP program.

    It seems to me that if our current crop of politicians have so little confidence in the ability of their economic policies to improve things in even this miniscule amount we would be well advised to find some new politicians who might actually have a clue about how to foster economic growth.

    In the same vein when an editorial board regularly issues editorials in which they provide only the facts that fit their agenda while completely ignoring the larger context of an issue we would be well advised to find a better source for news and opinions.