The House expects to vote tomorrow on a bill that would cut SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) by $39 billion over ten years. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates it would deny SNAP to about 3.8 million low-income people in 2014 and to an average of nearly 3 million people each year over the coming decade. The numbers include veterans who have dutifully served their country and are now struggling, like many other Americans, to make ends meet in a tough economy.
About 900,000 veterans receive SNAP assistance each month, according to Census data. (This figure is almost surely understated, because Census data do not capture SNAP received by homeless veterans — who, like most other homeless individuals aren’t included in the Census survey — and, thus, understate the overall number of people receiving SNAP.) An estimated 170,000 of those 900,000 veterans could be affected by the two provisions of the House proposal that would place food assistance for jobless workers at risk.
The first is the provision that would require states to terminate food aid after three months to unemployed people aged 18 to 50 not raising minor children who live in areas of high unemployment and cannot find a job or a place in a work or job training program. The second, the “Southerland” provision, would encourage states to terminate assistance to non-elderly jobless adults (and their families) who do not find work or an opening in a workfare or job training program. Other cuts in the bill, including the “categorical eligibility” cut targeted at low-income working families with high housing or child care costs, could affect additional veterans and their families.
Some Republicans point to the recent growth in SNAP to justify such harsh cuts. But SNAP enrollment — which has leveled off in recent months — remains high because the job market remains weak. The economy continues to produce too few jobs, especially ones that pay wages high enough to meet people’s basic needs. Veterans are as vulnerable as anyone else to that reality — many of them more so given the hurdles they face in translating military experience into civilian jobs and, for some, in dealing with the injuries they bring home.
Throughout our nation’s history, Congress has recognized the special needs of veterans and created targeted programs to address them, from pensions for disabled Revolutionary War soldiers to the G.I. Bill. But we shouldn’t forget that numerous other services help veterans as well, including those that keep low-income Americans afloat. We should be shoring up that safety net for veterans and other Americans who need it, not cutting holes in it for them to fall through.