The Republican dominated House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday which would cut roughly $39 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the coming decade. Representative and Majority Leader Eric Cantor who was the leading force behind the bill stated that, “[It was] wrong for working, middle-class people to pay [for SNAP],” citing abuses in the program and the general fiscal responsibility. Proponents of the bill cite the rapidly increasing cost of the program, increasing up to an $83 billion currently.
The logic is also that “This bill makes getting Americans back to work a priority again for our nation’s welfare programs,” as House Speaker John Boehner stated. So where does this bill go wrong?
Starting from the top, arguing that SNAP is a fraudulent program is empirically lacking to say the least. The Department of Agriculture, who operates SNAP, found that the amount of fraud equates to one cent per dollar of federal funding in the most recent available data. It goes without saying that any program will have cracks and people that take advantage of the system, but does a program with 99% efficiency and 1% fraudulent rate really strike you as an inefficient program? On SNAP the average support is $133 per month or about $1.47 per meal, if 1% of each dollar is fraudulently used does that merit gutting a program that helps 47.7 million Americans or thousands of military families? Absolutely not.
In terms of the rising costs and dependency on federal support, proponents are correct, costs of and enrollment in SNAP are going up. As some of you may have noticed, in the past couple of years the United States economy went through the worst recession since the Great Depression. Despite increasing employment, many Americans still rely on support for food because of only having part time employment opportunities as well as stagnation in median incomes for middle class families. It’s deeply ironic that Cantor and Boehner would advocate that food stamps are an unnecessary burden on middle class families and tax payers when middle class families and tax payers rely on food stamps. Observers might even argue that Republicans have fallen out of touch with the plights of average Americans, or lost sight of the vital interests of millions of Americans, such as being able to feed their family.
There is no doubt that the bill will fail in the Democratic controlled Senate but since the House of Representatives passed the bill the question arises: who would be affected by the passage of the bill? Considering that 85% of SNAP recipients are children, elderly or disabled persons; it is clear that children, elderly and disabled persons will be hit the hardest. Immediately, the bill would cut off support to 3.8 million Americans in October which is in addition to funding reductions set to happen in November.
Sure, the government needs to rework its budget. But cutting food stamps is not the place to begin. Besides the fact that food stamps help keep millions of families out of poverty, the program protects the most vulnerable in society. Children, disabled and the elderly did not create the recession; do not make them pay the price for the failure of others. Besides, the total enrollment is starting to decrease; pulling the rug out from under millions of Americans that rely on SNAP to feed themselves and/or their family is unethical and poor policy. Forcing struggling Americans to use all their discretionary money on food will ultimately trade off with other spending which will cut other gains for business. Sure, cutting SNAP will decrease spending but it will trade off with other discretionary spending.
Saving federal money has its merits but certainly not worth depriving American families of food and the microeconomic losses. At what point do we neglect our fellow Americans? For the wealthiest country in the world to prioritize some spending over ensuring that millions of Americans have the capacity to eat is abhorrent. Using the most vulnerable to reduce the deficit is wrong, and as White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, “[Republicans are using children as pawns] in the name of deficit reduction. It smacks of hypocrisy to me.” Do not cut aid to those who need it now more than ever, stay the course and reduce the spending when the economy is back in full swing. No one should be hungry in the wealthiest country in the world, especially children, the elderly, the disabled and our soldiers; suggesting otherwise is nothing short debauchery. There is no vitriol or condemnation that would render the necessary criticism of this bill.