Falsely claiming that the nation’s most important anti-hunger program — SNAP, formerly called food stamps — is experiencing “relentless and unsustainable growth,” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan calls for converting it into a block grant. The truth is that SNAP’s recent growth is temporary and reflects the battered economic circumstances of tens of millions of Americans due to the recession; SNAP is not contributing to the nation’s long-term fiscal problem. And block-granting SNAP would largely destroy its ability to respond to rising need during future recessions, forcing states to cut benefits or create waiting lists for needy families.
This graph, based on the latest Congressional Budget Office (CBO) data, shows that SNAP spending rose considerably when the recession hit. That’s precisely what SNAP was designed to do: respond quickly to help more low-income families during economic downturns as poverty rises, unemployment mounts, and more people need assistance. Enrollment then falls as the economy recovers and need abates, which CBO predicts will occur in the coming years. By 2021, SNAP spending will fall nearly to pre-recession levels as a share of the economy, CBO predicts.
Converting SNAP into a block grant would harm the millions of low-income Americans who rely on it now or will need help in the future. Under a block grant:
SNAP would be less able to respond to increased need during an economic downturn;
States would likely be able to shift funds away from food assistance to other purposes, which they would be tempted to do when they face large budget shortfalls (as they do today); and
Fixed funding would provide no room to address one of the most significant issues facing the program today: low participation rates among eligible working-poor families with children and low-income seniors.