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President’s Budget Would Radically Restructure, Cut SNAP

President Trump’s 2018 budget proposes to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) by more than $193 billion over the next ten years — a more than 25 percent cut — through a massive cost shift to states, cutting eligibility for millions of households and reducing benefits for hundreds of thousands more, as we write in a new analysis. The unemployed, the elderly, and low-income working families with children would bear the brunt of the cuts.

Among other cuts to SNAP, the President’s budget would:

  • Shift $116 billion in SNAP benefit costs to states. The President’s budget would require states to pay for 25 percent of SNAP benefits (starting at 10 percent in 2020 and increasing to an average state share of 25 percent by 2023), a cost shift of approximately $116 billion over ten years. Since its bipartisan origin, SNAP has operated as a national program with benefits paid by the federal government — a structure that was intended to address the enormous disparity in hunger and poverty across states. Such a cost shift would have significant consequences for states’ budgets. For example, in Texas, 25 percent of SNAP spending (about $1.3 billion per year) is roughly equivalent to the state’s share of the annual salary of 64,000 of the state’s teachers. In Pennsylvania, 25 percent of SNAP spending (about $680 million per year) is more than twice what the state spends on community colleges.
  • Abandon the national commitment to provide low-income Americans a SNAP benefit sufficient to afford a basic diet. SNAP benefits are now set federally and reflect the cost of a bare-bones healthy diet. As a part of the cost shift to states, the Agriculture Department would let states cut benefit levels as a cost management tool. This would mean that low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities would no longer be guaranteed access to a basic diet regardless of where they live. Instead, states’ ability to contribute to the cost of SNAP could drive the level of benefits available to poor households in that state. This is a radical departure from SNAP’s basic design, which has been proven to reduce hunger and poverty.

    The Administration’s savings estimate of this proposal doesn’t include any estimated impact of states reducing SNAP benefits. Since states would feel pressure to cut benefits at some point, this proposal would likely cut SNAP even further. Moreover, when the next recession hits, SNAP wouldn’t be able to expand automatically as it has in the past, as each additional dollar of SNAP necessary to meet the need of new applicants would require a state contribution at a time when state budgets would be strapped.

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. While its overall enrollment and spending are coming down as the economy improves, it provides vital assistance to over 40 million low-income Americans.