Families that get food stamps are also able to eat more healthfully and are less likely to skip doctor’s visits to pay for food, housing and other basic needs. “Increasing SNAP benefit levels improves family diet quality and children’s health,” the authors of the Children’s HealthWatch report wrote.
Will Work for Food
SNAP costs about $80 billion a year, which amounts to roughly 2 percent of the federal budget. It is paid for entirely by the federal government, although administrative costs are shared by states. Congress reauthorizes funding for the program every five years.
Payments are scheduled to decline this week because Congress three years ago voted to reverse a temporary increase in benefits made under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a 2009 law passed to bolster the sagging economy.
As the economy was melting down, lawmakers at the time lifted monthly SNAP payments by $20 to $24 per month. Economists say this is an effective way to stimulate growth because the poor must spend almost all of their money just to get by. That, in turn, funnels money into the economy, creating a “multiplier” effect as food benefits spent in a grocery store generate revenue for other businesses.
The size of SNAP cuts will vary by state. California faces the largest spending reduction, at $457 million, which will affect more than 4 million people. Other states with large populations of SNAP recipients expected to see big cuts include Florida, Michigan, New York and Texas. Some states have already sought to trim the rolls by imposing new eligibility requirements for food stamps. In Ohio, for example, able-bodied people must work or get job training at least 20 hours a week to qualify for SNAP.
For critics of food stamps, including those who express concern about certain kinds of government spending, such measures are necessary to shrink the federal deficit and encourage SNAP beneficiaries to work. Hostility to the program, especially among some conservatives, has long made it a target. In the early 1980s, for example, Congress sought to slim down the level of benefits SNAP provided by looking at people’s gross, rather than, income and by limiting income tax deductions, among other measures.
The reality, however, is that many people who get food stamps are working. Well over half of SNAP recipients have jobs, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. More than 80 percent of beneficiaries find employment within a year of starting to collect payments.
With the economy no longer in free-fall and SNAP participation leveling off, analysts also do not expect the program to drive up the deficit. The Congressional Budget Office projects federal spending on food stamps to fall over the next five years as the economy strengthens.
Watering the Milk
Most SNAP recipients run out of food stamps by the third week of the month, Fraser said. Parents often skip meals to ensure children are fed and use other means to make ends meet. “I had a mother tell me recently that her children loved milk, so she was secretly watering it down to stretch it,” he said.
“It’s always, ‘I’ve got to get something for my kids.’ They’re not coming in and asking for snacks or this or that. They’re asking for things like milk and cereal,” added Margarette Purvis, CEO of the Food Bank for New York City, which provides food to more than 1.5 million local residents. “They’re saying that they don’t have anything for breakfast. People are looking for something they can feed their children right now.”
Families, particularly single mothers, rely heavily on food kitchens, mobile food pantries, faith-based organizations and other charitable groups when their food stamps run out. Flowers leans on her church and Bread for the City, a Washington, D.C., group that provides food, clothing, medical care and other services for lower-income people.
But that, too, worries, anti-hunger specialists. People in the field say food banks across the country are already at their limit in the help they can offer people. Resources are always tight, and they have been stretched to bursting by the recession and anemic recovery.
“While this work is fueled by love, it can’t be sustained by it,” said Purvis, a veteran hunger activist who nevertheless expressed shock that Congress would reduce food aid. “You need cash and you need resources. And right now there is none.”
As usual with large socioeconomic problems requiring public policy solutions, any remedies in principle lie in Washington. That may be bad news for SNAP recipients. Although some Democrats in Congress have attacked the Nov. 1 rollback in benefits, the Democratic-controlled Senate in June approved legislation that included $4.5 billion in SNAP cuts. House Republicans envision far more draconian cuts, passing a bill last month that would cut funding for the program by $40 billion over 10 years.
When it comes to America’s hungry, it seems, political leaders who can’t agree on anything can agree on this: The poor can make do with less.
For her part, Flowers has not given up hope that elected officials will help her keep food on the table. “They found a solution to the government shutdown,” she said, “so I hope they can find a solution to this.”
By: Alain Sherter