For one in seven Americans, the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program represents the one lifeline between them and starvation.
In a stark reality that saw real wages fall across the board by 2.8 percent between 2009 and 2012, more people are hungry now than have been in the last five decades.
Worse yet, real wages for five of the top 10 lower-wage jobs — restaurant cooks, food prep workers, home health aides, personal care aides and housekeepers — fell by more than 5 percent during that period and 58 percent of all recovery growth being in low-paying jobs.
“They overwhelmingly pay low wages,” said Jack Temple, policy analyst for the National Employment Law Project. “For that lower segment, you’re going to see increased use of safety-net programs to make up the difference.”
In the United States, 14.9 percent of all households were food-insecure at some point in 2011, per the USDA — meaning that there was a time where the household did not know how to secure the food it needed or did not have the means to do so. 5.7 percent of all households had low food-security, meaning that the eating patterns of one or more members of the household were radically disturbed. This equates to nearly 50 million Americans that are hungry.
Despite this, the House Republicans have introduced a bill that would cut $40 billion from SNAP — commonly known as food stamps — over 10 years. Doug Heye, deputy chief of staff for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), has stated that the proposal would “include common-sense measures, such as work requirements and job-training requirements for able-bodied adults without children receiving assistance that enjoy a broad range of support.”
The bill, which will be considered after the August recess, came after the Farm Bill was defeated on the House floor June 20. Republican House leadership was taken aback by the rejection and has moved to shore up conservative objections to the bill, including doubling the cuts to SNAP from $20.5 billion to $40 billion. The defeated bill also called for mandatory drug tests for recipients and employment requirements, which have been transferred to the new proposal. The Republicans hold that the program’s $78 billion per year budget, as of 2011, is unnecessarily high.
This is contrary to a recent report by the USDA that points to the fact that from 2009 to 2011, the real value of SNAP benefits have dropped by 7 percent, due to the rising cost of food. While food security rose for non-SNAP low-income households, it actually dropped for SNAP beneficiaries, with food spending declining by 4.4 percent.
Welfare reform… again
According to the Health Impact Project, the proposed cuts to SNAP in the June bill would have caused 5.1 million people to lose their benefits, including a half million already food-insecure food stamp recipients. This would have been compounded by the expiration of the 2009 stimulus bill in November, which will see a reduction in benefits for 47 million food stamps beneficiaries. The cuts are estimated to total about $1.40 per person, per meal.
The proposed new cuts will target primarily able-bodied under-50-year-olds that have no dependents. This population was the group most affected by the recession and, accordingly, was the fastest growing. This group’s growth was attributed, in part, to state waivers of the 20-hour-a week work requirement to receive SNAP benefits.
The Republican proposal would cancel these waivers. A SNAP recipient would have to find work within three months to satisfy the minimum 20-hours-a-week requirement or lose eligibility. This could be catastrophic in areas with high unemployment, such as Indian reservations and the Mexican border region.
The Republican proposal would extend these employment requirements to mothers with children over 1 year old. As the law is currently written, the federal government offers a 50 percent match to state funds used for employment and training programs for food stamp beneficiaries. The Republican bill would make this money only available to states that agree to mandate welfare-to-work programs to all recipients that do not have children under the age of one.
Current law exempts all mothers that have children under the age of six. For many single-parent families, this creates a situation in which children are being raised in a de facto parentless scenario.
This bill is being soundly rejected by the Democrats and is in opposition to the Senate’s Farm Bill, which was passed in May. The current Farm Bill will twilight Sept. 30, which would not only endanger SNAP spending, but also farmers’ subsidies and agricultural relief programs. Ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Collin Peterson (D – Minn.), stated that the new cuts “effectively kills any hopes” for a long-term farm bill. It is projected that no Democrats will support the new proposal.
The Senate bill calls for only $4 billion in cuts to SNAP.
Much of the savings the House seeks to gain from SNAP and other programs, including $3 billion from the Treasury, $928 million from NASA, $259 million from the National Science Foundation, tens of millions from the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission and $300 million from the Securities and Exchange Commission, is being earmarked for Republican-friendly expenditures, including an additional $770 million over sequestration limits to the Department of Justice and $28 billion over sequestration limits for the Department of Defense.
This “flirting” with the Budget Control Act by the House Republicans is suggesting a standoff over the budget and a possible government shutdown. Much of the Republicans’ cuts, analytically, seem questionable. For example, cuts to the IRS, the nation’s sole revenue collector, limits its capabilities to collect the $2.5 trillion it collected at normal capacity in 2012. It is estimated that the furloughing of just 1,800 enforcement positions would mean a loss of $4.5 billion in revenue. The IRS has announced it would furlough more than 89,000 employees to cover budget cuts.
In addition, sequestration cuts to research and development will amount to $95 billion over nine years, and will equate to between $203 billion and $860 billion in loss to the gross domestic product over the same period of time with a loss of 200,000 jobs in 2013 alone. This does not factor in the increased cuts the House Republicans would like to see.
This “budget-juggling” is a new reality of sequestration, and despite warnings from the White House that the president intends to hold the Republicans to the Budget Control Act, many Republicans are growing tired of the constraints. “Sequestration — and its unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts — must be brought to an end,” said Rep. Hal Rogers (R – Ky.), House Appropriations Committee chairman, in a statement in response to the House’s failure to pass the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill prior to the August recess.
“The bill today reflected the best possible effort, under an open process, to fund programs important to the American people — including our highway, air and rail systems, housing for our poorest families, and improvement to local communities — while also making the deep cuts necessary under the current budget cap,” Rogers said. “In order to abide by sequestration budget levels, this bill cuts $4.4 billion below the current, post-sequestration total to a level below what was approved for these programs in 2006 — over seven years ago.”
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