Vice President for Food Assistance Policy
In a USA Today op-ed today, I describe the critical role that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — this nation’s first line of defense against hunger — plays in helping millions of low-income Americans afford an adequate diet.
As I explain, SNAP has expanded in recent years mostly because of the severe recession and because it does much better than it used to in reaching eligible people, especially the working poor. The number of SNAP participants has leveled off in the past few months, and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says SNAP costs will drop substantially as the economy recovers (see graph).
So, the suggestion in the accompanying USA Today editorial that policymakers “nudge” SNAP back to its size in the mid-1990s by cutting program funding is unnecessary. CBO projects that by 2019, SNAP costs will fall back to their 1995 level when measured as a share of the economy (the best way to tell whether a given program is affordable) without any changes to the program.
Moreover, the cuts needed to reach this goal next year, rather than in 2019, would be more like a shove than a nudge. Since SNAP’s administrative costs are very low (more than 90 cents of every dollar in SNAP funding goes for food assistance), cuts this big would require cuts in eligibility or benefits that would hit millions of low-income Americans hard:
We badly need to reduce our long-term deficits, but we don’t have to — and shouldn’t — do it in a way that increases poverty, hunger, and hardship.