On Sept. 19 the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation that will cut funding for the food stamp program and send millions of Americans deeper into poverty. The Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act proposes cuts of $39 billion over the next 10 years. The steep cuts will affect 47-million Americans, and just under half of those are children. Because of the high rates of poverty, food insecurity and child hunger, serious action needs to be taken to change the course of this legislation.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — commonly called food stamps — is a federal aid program that supports low-income individuals and families by providing financial assistance for the purchase of food. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the program, more than 15 percent of the country receives food assistance with 83 percent of recipients consisting of children, seniors and disabled individuals. Currently, more than 80 percent of SNAP households live in poverty. In Michigan, one in six residents receives SNAP benefits and will see the per-person-per-meal dollar amount cut to $1.40.
The SNAP program has been beneficial for many reasons. In the face of historically high levels of unemployment during the 2008 recession, the program has been credited with keeping many people out of severe levels of food insecurity and poverty. The SNAP program lifted more than four-million Americans above the poverty line in 2012. In addition to direct effects, research has shown that children who have early exposure to the program have better outcomes metabolically, economically and educationally.
Cutting billions of dollars of funding from a major program appears to save money on the surface, but there are many hidden consequences. Giving participants less money to spend results in slowing economic growth, as a result of cutting consumption. In addition to slow economic growth, experts believe jobs will be affected. A study from the University of Massachusetts estimates that for each $1-billion reduction, 13,718 jobs will be eliminated. Lastly, projections show that as the economy recovers, program spending will decrease and, by 2019, will return to levels — as a share of GDP — that it was at during 1995.
SNAP is necessary for our country, but I’m not blind to its shortcomings. Currently, there are no nutritional standards on the types of food recipients are to purchase. Because the amount per person is so low, many families can only purchase cheap and unhealthy foods, which ultimately can contribute to disease and illness putting more strain on the system. The Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council released a report suggesting ways in which the USDA should define adequacy goals and ways to reach them.
Another issue commonly referred to is fraud, such as when SNAP benefits are exchanged for cash. Though it does exist, there have been extensive efforts by the USDA to control fraud, with statistics showing one cent per dollar is trafficked. The USDA investigates and disqualifies retailers if they don’t adhere to requirements. In addition, many states are working in conjunction with the USDA to implement anti-fraud initiatives.
It’s easy to look at and hear about a system with a stereotype of abuse and dismiss the latest cuts. But I challenge you to research the benefits of the SNAP program and the millions of people it provides for. Influencing Congress to protect SNAP is not only favorable for the poor, the elderly and the disabled, but also for the rest of the people in this country who will benefit from a growing economy and a failsafe should they ever find themselves in economic hardship.
Kristin Mandrink is a graduate student in the School of Social Work.