Figuring out the food stamp math

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, July 25, 2012 -During the recent mark-up by the House Agriculture Committee of its 2012 Farm Bill proposal, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., made the case that spending reductions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as food stamps, are not cuts, but instead are “reductions in an increase.”

Responding to what Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., called “the unkindest cut of all” imposed by the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM), Goodlatte said, “but in point of fact it is not a cut at all.”

“If you look at the numbers, it is very clear food stamps have been increasing. They have increased 270% over last decade and will continue to increase under this farm bill,” he said. “Under current law, 77.8 % goes to nutrition programs. Under this bill, 78.9% go to food stamps. So it will increase by 2%.”

Lets Talk Food

The reforms to SNAP in the FARRM bill include changes to restrict categorical eligibility or automatic eligibility. It restricts eligibility to only those households receiving cash assistance

from Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or other state general assistance programs.

The reforms also ensure that all households meet the requirements of SNAP law, including the asset and gross income limits, before they can receive benefits. Receiving a TANF-funded brochure or referral to an “800” number hotline would no longer automatically make a household eligible for SNAP. For example, without these reforms, if you received a TANF brochure you were eligible for more food stamps. Rep. Goodlatte said, “It has nothing to do with your income or assets that were set in the law.”

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the updates to program eligibility will save $11.5 billion over the next decade. FARRM also closes a loophole in SNAP related to how Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) payments interact with the SNAP benefit calculation. CBO projects that this reform will save $4.5 billion over the next ten years.

According to the CBO, in 2011 nearly 45 million recipients, which is one out of every seven U.S. residents, received SNAP benefits in an average month, while total federal spending for the program cost $78 billion. In 2012, federal spending for SNAP is projected to go up another $3 billion, to $81 billion.

The changes in direct spending under FARRM would decrease the Title IV-Nutrition funding by $634 million in 2013, with projected spending at nearly $82 billion. This means the program would still grow by nearly $359 million dollars from 2012 spending levels based on the March CBO baseline projections.

CBO projects that the number of SNAP beneficiaries will continue to rise through 2014, but then decline, with 2014 representing the high-water mark for the program. By 2022, CBO projects that about 34 million people each month will receive benefits and expenditures will decline to about $73 billion.

Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, agreed with Goodlatte that the cuts to SNAP are modest and appropriate. “I am unsure why people would object to something that is reforming something that is not working correctly,” Neugebauer said during the markup. “The facts are that no reduction in benefits is in this bill, nor is there reduction in benefits for those that qualify for it.”

But for Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., and other fiscal conservatives, food stamp cuts need to go much deeper. At least one Tea Party group, American Commitment, has taken out $75,000 in radio ads to attack Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., for their support of the farm bill.

“This $957 billion so-called Farm Bill spends $756 billion on Food Stamps-that's 79 percent of the bill's spending total,” the group said in a press release Monday.

“It's a program rampant with fraud and abuse that has more than doubled in size since 2008. Congress should be fixing the economy so people have good jobs and get off food stamps-not locking in place Obama's failed dependency policies for another five years. We urge House leadership not to bring this bill to the floor, and if they do we urge members of the House to vote NO.”

Despite disagreement between each party on the food stamp reductions, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., dismissed SNAP funding as a factor in the House leadership's refusal to schedule a floor vote on the farm bill.

“It's not food stamps. That's nonsense,” he said. “That [House language] won't be in the final bill and everyone knows that. This is like the health care vote. It's for show.”


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