GUEBERT: SNAP will bite back if not funded
Former food stamp program drives economy and benefits farmers, but money needed as incomes low
Two of the greatest ironies of living in the richest, strongest nation in the history of the world are how many poor people remain in 21st century America and how vulnerable -- as the Boston bombings showed again -- we are to evildoers.
The two are not linked.
Evil is evil and it has no cure.
Poverty, and its key byproduct, hunger, however, can be addressed through private and public assistance. The handouts are intended to be hand-ups, bridges over troubled times to better educations, better jobs, better housing, better medical care, better food, better lives.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture manages the federal government's biggest helping hand, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. In Fiscal Year 2011, according to wwww wwwwww www www the Congressional Budget Office, SNAP doled out $78 billion -- double the program's funding in 2008 -- to one in seven Americans.
Two-thirds of that growth can be attributed to one fact: A decade ago, only 50 percent of those eligible for SNAP even applied; today it's 75 percent and climbing. A second cause is the still-felt 2008 economic downturn.
SNAP is a young/old program -- 45 percent of recipients in 2011 (the latest data) were under age 18 and 9 percent were over age 60. Moreover, only 12 percent of all SNAP households received "welfare" payments of any kind and the average household income of SNAP families was just 60 percent of the 2011 national poverty standard, or about $9,100 per year.
Big as SNAP is, its average benefits are small. In 2011 the average SNAP benefit per household was just $281 a month. Forty-one percent of all SNAP households received the maximum family benefit of $668 per month while 8 percent received the smallest, just $16 per month.
Despite its growth and growing impact, both the Senate and House versions of the 2012 Farm Bill proposed cuts to SNAP -- $16.5 billion over 10 years in the House bill, $4.5 billion over the same period in the Senate bill.
Since neither bill became law, both chambers will, again, attempt farm bills in 2013. The House version, kept entirely under wraps by its Republican chairman, Oklahoman Frank Lucas, is to be unveiled May 15.
News reports suggest House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is pinching Lucas for reforms. Cantor wants "workfare," SNAP benefits tied to work and jobs. Cantor's reasons are purely political. He sees a link between food aid and work as an enticement to conservative House members to vote for any farm bill.
Maybe, but it puts House Ag Boss Lucas in a tough spot for several reasons.
First, the biggest reason any farm bill passes any House any year is because urban district members vote for SNAP. Any changes to basic SNAP rules -- and workfare is an enormous change -- would draw the nays of this majority and, likely, sink any House farm bill.
Second, SNAP is a huge economic driver at the local level. According to USDA, "Every $5 in SNAP generates $9.20 for the local economy." This nearly two-to-one bang for every buck is behind strong -- and growing -- local support for SNAP even in the reddest of red states.
In fact, many communities see SNAP as one of the biggest jobs and sales tax generator they have. And, better yet, both come courtesy of Washington, D.C.
Third, farmers and ranchers benefit, too. According to most food assistance experts, 10 to 11 cents of every SNAP dollar flows directly to U.S. farm income. As such, cuts to food aid will cut farm sales and profits.
And, finally, SNAP cuts in the proposed 2012 farm bills were so small relative to overall spending that when each was re-examined by the Congressional Budget Office this past March the forecasted savings virtually disappeared. They were meaningless -- except to the poor and hungry.
All should make full funding for SNAP a snap for farmers, ranchers and Congress.