By Freddie Allen
WASHINGTON – Both the House and Senate have passed bills that would reduce funding of the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called food stamps, but the extent of the cuts will not become known until negotiators from both chambers agree to a compromise measure.
SNAP was reduced as part of a five-year House farm bill by $2 billon, slightly more than 3 percent. A similar farm bill passed by the Senate would reduce SNAP funding by $400 million a year, about half of 1 percent.
Both actions were taken last week.
By voice vote, the Senate also adopted a separate amendment that would prevent convicted murderers, rapists and pedophiles from receiving food stamps for life.
Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the amendment would likely have “strongly racially discriminatory effects.”
“The amendment would bar from SNAP (food stamps), for life, anyone who was ever convicted of one of a specified list of violent crimes at any time – even if the committed the crime decades ago in their youth and have served their sentence, paid their debt to society, and been a good citizen ever since,” Greenstein said in a statement.
He continued, “Given the incarceration patterns in the United States, the amendment would have a skewed racial impact. Poor elderly African Americans convicted of a single crime decades ago by segregated Southern juries would be among those hit.”
Greenstein’s group said the House version would slash $20 billion in spending from the program over the next decade, resulting in nearly 2 million people being kicked off of SNAP if the bill becomes law.
More than 200,000 children would lose free meals at school. Poor families that have managed to scrape together a few thousand dollars for emergencies would get kicked off the program. Other families battling poverty would get kicked off of SNAP for owning a car.
“Many of these families would be forced to choose between owning a reliable car and receiving food assistance to help feed their families,” said the report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
The report also said, “The bill’s SNAP cuts would come on top of an across-the-board reduction in benefits that every SNAP recipient will experience starting November 1, 2013. On that date, the increase in SNAP benefits established by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) will end, resulting in a loss of approximately $25 in monthly SNAP benefits for a family of four. Placing the SNAP cuts in this farm bill on top of the benefit cuts that will take effect in November is likely to put substantial numbers of poor families at risk of food insecurity.”
According to experts, SNAP not only helps families keep food on the table, but also boosts the economy as low-income households pour money into the economy.
Feeding America, a domestic hunger-relief charity, reported that 1 in 4 Black households live with food insecurity issues compared to 1 in 10 White households. Thirty-two percent of Black children don’t have adequate access to food compared to 16 percent of White children.
Republicans who supported the House Agriculture Committee bill lambasted the current spending levels in the program and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said that the growth in the program was responsible for expanding a “dependency class.”
A report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities published March 2013, titled “SNAP Is Effective and Efficient,” found a more likely culprit: the Great Recession.
“The number of people eligible for SNAP increased because of the recession and lagging recovery,” the report stated. “The number of people with income below 130 percent of poverty (the SNAP income limit) increased substantially, from 54 million in 2007, before the recession, to 60 million in 2009 and 64 million in 2011, allowing more households to qualify for help from the program.”
The Center report also found that, “The recent growth in SNAP spending is temporary. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicts that SNAP spending will fall as a share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in coming years as the economy recovers and the Recovery Act provisions end.”
Amelia Kegan, a senior policy analyst at Bread for the World, a faith-based international organization that works to end hunger, said that SNAP’s ability to automatically adjust to meet the need of Americans struggling through the recession shows that the program is working.
“The food stamp program, the child nutrition program, and the school lunch programs were able to automatically respond and expand to address the spike in need,” said Kegan. “As the economy recovers and more people get back to work and don’t need these programs anymore, participation falls.”
Feeding America reported that more White households are food insecure than Black households, but the rate of food insecurity in Black households is twice as high. Whites also make up roughly 36 percent of people that use SNAP. Blacks account for 22 percent.
This concerns many advocates that say more Blacks need to be educated about the program that could play a critical role in helping them to escape poverty.
“One major concern that I have within the African American community is that many people don’t have direct access to the program. They are not sure about the program,” said Brian Banks, director of public policy and community outreach for the Capital Area Food Bank. “They don’t understand that the program is there to help and support them.”
Banks said that the proposed cuts to the safety net program are disheartening.
“This is the wrong time to cut this program the biggest safety net program in America,” said Banks, director of public policy and community outreach for the Capital Area Food Bank. “We’re talking about your neighbors, your grandparents, your colleagues. You’d be surprised by who’s suffering from hunger.
Banks added: “The federal government is in place and should have the will to support people without hurting them. People are struggling and if we cut programs that are helping them, where are they going to go to get assistance?”