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Bernstein: Washington Post Profile of Rep. Southerland Misleading on SNAP

In his latest post for On the Economy, CBPP Senior Fellow Jared Bernstein discusses a Washington Post profile focusing on Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) and his controversial proposed changes in the SNAP (formerly food stamp) program that are included in the SNAP bill the House passed last week.  The piece casts Southerland’s reforms to SNAP as “far more benign than they are,” Bernstein says, noting:

Here’s what the bill [the House] passed actually does:

Allows states to throw people off of SNAP if they want a job or a slot in a job-training program but none are available.  Yes, that’s voluntary from the states’ perspective, but for the first time in the history of food stamps, their bill incentivizes states to reduce the rolls, by letting them keep 50% of the federal funds that would otherwise pay for food for the poor and use those funds for anything else they want, including tax cuts.

In areas with high unemployment, states now can waive SNAP’s three-month time limit on food assistance for unemployed childless adults.  This bill eliminates that right.  It requires that such individuals be tossed off SNAP after 90 days if they can’t find a job, regardless of how hard they’re looking and how tough the job market is.

Remarkably, the bill also eliminates food assistance to certain low-paid working families.  For example, it would terminate benefits for working families whose gross income is slightly above the SNAP eligibility level (130% of poverty, or $2,000 a month for a parent with two kids) but who incur high child-care costs and thus have disposable income below the poverty line.

Bernstein also clarifies the source of projections about SNAP’s long-term costs:

And, according to predictions by CBO [the Congressional Budget Office], as the economic recovery proceeds, the rolls will decline such that by 2019, the costs of the [SNAP] program are expected to fall to their 1995 levels as a share of the economy.  In the WaPo piece, however, this non-partisan forecast is presented as just another dimension of the political argument [i.e., as a Democratic attack line] with no acknowledgement of the CBO forecast….

Bottom line, SNAP expanded to meet the nutritional needs of the poor in the deepest recession since the depression — a good example of a countercyclical program at work. As the job market recovers, the caseloads are expected to recede as current recipients find jobs and earn more.

Click here for the full post. For more, see our series, “Setting the Record Straight on SNAP.”