Food stamps are under attack. For 40 years, these federal benefits have been the first line of defense against hunger for 1.8 million at-risk Pennsylvanians and 47 million nationwide. Yet serious cuts to this program are underway.
On November 1, federal stimulus spending to SNAP expired, resulting in immediate cuts to food stamps for all recipients, including all 22 million children. For a family of four this will mean the sudden loss of $36 per month, according to a new report, which Just Harvest joined the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, and Public Citizens for Children and Youth in releasing in early August.
Altogether, the total cut is estimated to be $5 billion in fiscal year 2014. This is the same amount emergency food providers – pantries, soup kitchens, churches – spend every year on food for hungry people nationwide. This cut will be like single-handedly eliminating all of these charities: one in 24 bags of food assistance.
Unfortunately, Congress is considering far deeper cuts to the program.
Food and Farm Bill Cuts
Every five years the U.S. Food and Farm Bill (aka the “farm bill”) sets the budget and rules for federal farming and nutrition programs, including SNAP/food stamps. The current one is due to expire in September. As a result, there have been heated debates this summer over what the new farm bill should look like.
In June, the U.S. Senate approved $4 billion in cuts to SNAP/food stamps in its bipartisan version of the five-year farm bill. Republican members of the House of Representatives had been proposing cuts of $20 billion to food stamps, a critical line of defense against hunger for 1.8 million Pennsylvanians living in poverty. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called these proposed cuts “terrifying.”
We defeated this version of the bill, but then the House passed something even scarier. It made permanent law a farm bill that funnels tax-payer dollars to corporate farmers in the form of crop insurance and other subsidies. The House left out entirely the “Food” part of the farm bill – the authorization of the critical nutrition programs, like food stamps, that help poor people – programs that have been included in the farm bill for decades.
Now, despite the already scheduled stimulus cuts in November, House Republican leaders have gotten passed a Food bill that cuts food stamp funding by $40 billion over 10 years – double what they had proposed last time around, essentially cutting the program in half.
This new House bill also retains the worst measures of the failed June bill.
- It facilitates arbitrary drug testing, though most SNAP recipients are children (22 million) or seniors/the disabled (9 million);
- It takes work requirements further than ever before, though most able-bodied SNAP recipients are already employed:
- It would end protection for those who try to find work but can’t;
- It would force mothers to go back to work as soon as their child turns one or forfeit their food stamps.
- It restricts federal matching funds for employment and training programs to only those states that adopt that these mandates.
Altogether the bill denies SNAP to 4 to 6 million low-income people, including some of the nation’s poorest adults, as well as many low-income children, seniors, and families that work for low wages. It would divert much of the money from these “savings” to the Department of Defense.