Two of the greatest ironies of living in the richest, strongest nation in the world are how many poor people remain in 21st-century America and how vulnerable – as the Boston bombings showed again – we are to evildoers.
Poverty, and its key byproduct, hunger, can be addressed through private and public assistance.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture manages the federal government's biggest helping hand, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. In Fiscal Year 2011, according the Congressional Budget Office, SNAP doled out $78 billion – double the program's funding in 2008 – to one in seven Americans.
SNAP is a young/old program; 45 percent of recipients in 2011 (the latest data) were under age 18, and 9 percent were over age 60. The average household income of SNAP families was 60 percent of the 2011 national poverty standard, or about $9,100 per year. Read more at www.farmandfoodfile.com.
Big as SNAP is, its average benefits are small. In 2011 the average SNAP benefit per household was just $281 a month. Forty-one percent of all SNAP households received the maximum family benefit of $668 per month while 8 percent received the smallest, just $16 per month.
Despite its growth and growing impact, both the Senate and House versions of the 2012 Farm Bill proposed cuts to SNAP – $16.5 billion over 10 years in the House bill, $4.5 billion over the same period in the Senate bill.
Since neither bill became law, both chambers will, again, attempt Farm Bills in 2013. The House version, kept entirely under wraps by its Republican chairman, Oklahoman Frank Lucas, is to be unveiled May 15.
News reports suggest House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is pinching Lucas for reforms. Cantor wants “workfare,” SNAP benefits tied to work and jobs. It puts Lucas in a tough spot for several reasons.
First, the biggest reason any Farm Bill passes any House any year is because urban district members vote for SNAP. Any changes to basic SNAP rules – and workfare is an enormous change – would draw the nays of this majority and, likely, sink any House Farm Bill.
Second, SNAP is a huge economic driver at the local level. According to USDA, “Every $5 in SNAP generates $9.20 for the local economy.” This nearly two-to-one bang for every buck is behind strong – and growing – local support for SNAP even in the reddest of red states.
Third, according to most food assistance experts, 10 to 11 cents of every SNAP dollar flows directly to U.S. farm income. As such, cuts to food aid will cut farm sales and profits.
And, finally, SNAP cuts in the proposed 2012 Farm Bills were so small relative to overall spending that when each was re-examined by the Congressional Budget Office this past March the forecasted savings virtually disappeared. They were meaningless – except to the poor and hungry.
All should make full funding for SNAP a snap for farmers, ranchers and Congress.