From the New York Times:
“House Republicans narrowly pushed through a bill on Thursday that slashes billions of dollars from the food stamp program, over the objections of Democrats and a veto threat from President Obama. The vote set up what promised to be a contentious fight with the Senate and dashed hopes for passage this year of a new five-year farm bill. The vote was 217 to 210.
Republican leaders said the bill would make needed changes to a program that has grown out of control. Democrats, though, called the cuts to the food stamp program draconian and said millions of hungry people would lose their benefits.”
Since 2007 the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as “food stamps,” has grown at an annual rate of 12%. A lot of that growth can be attributed to the recession, but even after the economy started growing again the number of Americans receiving assistance has continued to climb upward.
There is a good post on the New York Times “Economix” blog that explains the sudden increase. It points out that while unemployment and veterans’ benefits increased by 24 and 49 percent respectively, SNAP has gone up more than 100%. The post argues that most of the uptick in spending was caused by rule changes over the past few years that increased eligibility and benefits.
Now despite the New York Time’s attempt to dramatize the cuts, in reality they represent only 5% of the SNAP budget. This is only a fraction of the increases due to the recent rule changes, so it’s hard to see this hurting too many people. That being said, it’s not the best optics for the GOP to be cutting social welfare programs aimed at keeping people fed. What would be ideal is a grand bargain on entitlements that makes Social Security and Medicare sustainable in the long term while also rooting out inefficiencies and waste in programs like SNAP. But since SNAP funding is tied to the Farm Bill, which only comes up for a vote every five years, they only way to reform the program is a stand alone cut.
The Senate has already passed a bill cutting food stamps, though it doesn’t go nearly as far as the House bill. Regardless of the final package, it looks likely that the SNAP budget will be smaller than it was last year. As the head of the executive branch, it is up to President Obama to make sure these cuts are done as painlessly as possible while making sure that people truly in need are taken care of. Or he could make them as painful as possible and blame it on the Republicans.
But for now I have a little faith in human nature.