BEYOND THE NUMBERS
President Trump’s 2019 budget proposes to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) by more than $213 billion over the next ten years — or by nearly 30 percent. It calls for radically restructuring the delivery of benefits, which would cut benefits for the overwhelming majority of households, and other benefit and eligibility changes that would leave at least 4 million people losing SNAP benefits altogether. The cuts would affect every type of SNAP participant, including the unemployed, the elderly, individuals with disabilities, and low-income working families with children. The proposed cuts would come on top of other Administration proposals to shrink the safety net, particularly health coverage, and on the heels of a tax law that will mainly benefit the wealthy and corporations and is expected to add $1.5 trillion to deficits over ten years.
Among other SNAP cuts, the President’s budget would:
- Shift more than $260 billion in food purchasing from individual households to the government. The budget proposes radically restructuring how SNAP benefits are provided, upending SNAP’s successful and efficient public-private partnership with some 260,000 retail stores around the country in favor a new government-driven approach. Instead of letting households that receive more than $90 a month continue to use their SNAP benefit to buy food at their local grocery store, the Agriculture Department (USDA) would hold back an estimated $24 to $29 billion per year in household benefits (about 40 percent of the benefits issued to such households). The agency would use about half of these funds — $130 billion over ten years, or about 20 percent of all SNAP benefits — to give the households a box of non-perishable foods such as shelf-stable milk, ready-to-eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans, and canned foods. The other half of the held-back funds would be cut, thus representing USDA’s estimated ten-year SNAP savings. This would affect some 34 million people in 16 million households in 2019 — almost 90 percent of SNAP participants.
While USDA routinely buys and distributes commodities to entities that run and operate government food programs (such as school districts or state agencies that work with local food banks), this new proposal to support individual households would require operational capacity and infrastructure that neither USDA nor states now have. This unprecedented proposal puts access to food at risk for 1 in 10 Americans on the faulty assumption that government can buy and provide food more efficiently than millions of American households.
(Note: The budget contains a gross SNAP cut of more than $216 billion over ten years. It allocates an additional $2.5 billion over ten years for new state administrative costs associated with distributing the proposed food boxes, which leaves a net cut of more than $213 billion.)
- Other eligibility and benefit cuts. The budget also proposes about another $85 billion in SNAP cuts over ten years, including all of the cuts included in the President’s 2018 budget plus several additional cuts. For example, the budget would:
- Force states to time-limit food assistance to certain individuals who are not working at least 20 hours a week, but live in high unemployment areas or who have good cause for needing to continue receiving SNAP, as determined by the state;
- Apply SNAP’s three-month time limit — for unemployed adults who aren’t disabled or raising minor children — to people up to age 62, versus 49 under current law;
- Eliminate a state option that supports working families, addresses a benefit cliff that would otherwise cause working families to lose benefits as their earnings rise, and encourages households to save for the future;
- Eliminate the minimum benefit, which would cut benefits to 2 million individuals, mainly low-income seniors and people with disabilities;
- Penalize large families by capping SNAP benefits at the level for a household of six, effectively eliminating SNAP to the additional household members; and
- Eliminate all spending for SNAP nutrition education.
SNAP is a highly effective program targeted to households that need its help to meet their basic food needs. With a small average benefit of just $1.40 per person per meal, it lifts millions out of poverty, and it has demonstrated long-term benefits for children that participate, including better health and education outcomes. The President’s SNAP proposals remain as ill-advised and harmful as they were last year.