The House Agriculture Committee is poised to consider a farm bill this week that would eliminate Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) assistance to nearly 2 million low-income people and, more generally, cause significant hardships for millions of low-income households, as we explain in a new paper.
That’s because the Committee’s bill would cut funds for SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) by almost $21 billion over the next decade. Because the bill would reduce total farm bill spending by an estimated $39.7 billion over ten years, more than half of its cuts would come from SNAP. In fact, the bill would cut $4 billion more from SNAP than the Committee included in its version of the bill last year.
Specifically, the majority of the SNAP cuts in the bill would eliminate the categorical eligibility state option, which allows states to provide food assistance to households — primarily low-income working families and seniors — that have gross incomes or assets modestly above federal SNAP limits but disposable incomes in most cases below the poverty line. By ending the option, the bill would cut nearly 2 million low-income people in more than 40 states off SNAP.
Moreover, the low-income families affected by this bill will already see a sizeable SNAP cut beginning November 1, when the increase in SNAP benefits created by the 2009 Recovery Act will end. Coming on top of the November benefit cuts, the SNAP cuts in this farm bill would likely worsen poor families’ risk of food insecurity.
Some policymakers, including some House Agriculture Committee members who have pushed for the SNAP cuts in the bill, have justified the cuts by claiming that the program is growing out of control. Such charges are mistaken: SNAP costs have grown substantially over the past decade, but for reasons that show the program is working by responding to growing need, and they are expected to fall substantially as the economy recovers.
Some also contend that policymakers must address the deficit solely by cutting programs rather than raising taxes. Already, 70 percent of the $2.3 trillion in policy savings that the President and Congress have enacted in the past few years have come through program cuts rather than revenue increases. But for some, that’s not enough. The SNAP cuts in this bill unfortunately could signal a new era in which the poorest families are asked to make some of the greatest sacrifices.