Most Americans and politicians believe food stamps belong in the federal government’s safety net for low-income folks. The ongoing political dispute is over how many should qualify.
This week, the House is expected to vote on a bill to cut $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, over 10 years, much of it through changes in eligibility rules. The Senate’s version would trim $4 billion. It’s all part of the reauthorization of the farm bill that has included the food program.
Congress is wrestling with program growth that has soared from 17 million people receiving $15 billion in 2001 to 47 million getting $75 billion last year. The Great Recession and a slow economic recovery are the main causes, many Democrats say.
Republicans also blame “categorical eligibility” – a process by which state agencies grant SNAP benefits to people who qualify for other state assistance programs, such as help for heating bills, for low-income households.
States like it because it reduces costly duplication of paperwork. But Republicans want to curtail it, saying it increases the number who are eligible for food stamps because of somewhat different income thresholds.
There’s truth in all those positions. We see this issue as primarily a symptom of what’s wrong with the economy. Not enough people in jobs that pay living wages; many new jobs are part-time, no benefits.
In Iowa, eligibility was altered in 2008 from 130 percent of poverty level to 160 percent. Today, 1 in every 14 Iowans receive SNAP – about $120 a month for an individual, less than $500 for a family of four. We don’t think that’s overly generous as the core of the nation’s safety net.
Dropping millions of low-income Americans from SNAP won’t fix federal budget problems. Focus on fixing the economy, Congress.