House Republicans made good on their promise to slash the food stamp program. And slash they did, passing a bill that would cut the Supplemental Assistance and Nutrition Program (SNAP) by $39 billion and would drop close to 12 million recipients over the next decade.
Republicans today and in the past have relied on anecdotes—some real, some totally made up – to highlight the problems with food stamps. And anecdotes, true or not, become powerful political narrative. However, anecdotes are only small snippets of reality that do not take the bigger picture into consideration. And the big picture is the economy. At the height of the great recession one out of ten people were unemployed and among minorities rates of unemployment were nearly double that of whites.
In the six years since the onset of the recession things have gotten better. But we have still not recovered from the economic downturn, and the effects of the recession are still with us and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
Let’s take Juana Doe, who lost her job during the recession, remained unemployed for several months, had to dip into savings and eventually go into credit card debt to make ends meet. Eventually, Juana lands a job but it’s only a part-time job for lower pay and no benefits, but she’s got to take what she can get. Juana is underemployed, yet employed and once again generating income. But her living expenses along with those of her and her family have remained unchanged.
The argument that House Republicans make is that because the recession is over safety net programs should be trimmed back. This line of argument is simplistic – there was no wave of the magic wand that returned Americans back to the same exact positions they were in before the start of the recession. This is especially the case for minorities who saw the steepest decline in wealth. Latinos specifically endured the worst of the economic downturn, having lost sixty-six percent of their wealth.
The cuts passed by the House will not likely survive in the Senate. But, regardless of what happens in Congress, funding for food stamps will decrease come November 1st of this year. In response to the economic hardships of the Great Recession there was a boost to SNAP by the 2009 Recovery Act. But after the decrease in funding, what this means in dollars and cents is that a family of four will see $36 less of aid a month. That may not seem like a lot, but with these cuts recipients will average only $1.40 per meal.
The assault on food stamps is misdirected. Aside from the fact that the overwhelming majority of recipients are families with children, the elderly, or disabled, the cuts won’t fix our economy. SNAP accounts for only about 2% of the federal budget. And most importantly, law makers attention is misplaced. Instead of spending so much time and energy trying to push through cuts, they should focus on the bigger issue of getting the economy back on track.
Victoria Defrancesco Soto
Friday, 20 September 2013