Congress should SNAP to it
Legislators last week took a meat cleaver to the government's most important food program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which was known as the food stamp program until Congress changed its name five years ago.
The House measure would cut $4 billion a year from the $80 billion program, compared with the Senate proposal to trim it by a tenth of that, $400 million a year.
About 47 million Americans, one of every seven, are enrolled in the SNAP program. About half of those people are teenagers or young children, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Another 10 percent are older Americans. Most households that use SNAP benefits have someone working but qualify for the program due to low wages.
The average monthly SNAP benefit is $133 per person per month. The average family with children enrolled in SNAP in 2012 had income of about $10,785 annually for a family of three. The program is weighted so that lower-income families get proportionally more aid.
Usage has nearly doubled since 2009, when the program cost just under $40 billion a year. House Republicans blame President Obama, whom Newt Gingrich famously labeled "the food stamp president."
But Congress' own nonpartisan economic analysts have detailed the true reason. Millions of jobs were lost in the Great Recession, which began in 2007. Even though that recession formally has ended, unemployment remains high. And millions of people who have re-entered the workforce have done so with lower-paying or part-time jobs that don't pay enough to eliminate their SNAP eligibility.
According to the USDA, the number of people eligible for SNAP has begun to fall as the economy finally has begun to improve.
The House cut is overly aggressive and should be scaled back.