Cutting Food Stamps Isn't Leadership

Republicans should go after big-ticket savings, not endanger vulnerable populations who need SNAP to survive.

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Mayor Michael Nutter's purchases are scanned by a cashier at a ShopRite grocery story Monday, April 23, 2012, in Philadelphia. Nutter pledged Monday to live on the average food stamp benefit of five dollars a day for the entire week. The challenge takes place the week before the planned asset test for food stamps goes into effect in Pennsylvania, which critics say will disqualify thousands of low-income families from food assistance.

After Congress' August recess, House Majority leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas, R-Okla., plan to introduce a 10-year, $40 billion cut to the food stamps program. This proposal will be part of efforts to reconcile the Senate and House versions of the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 – a.k.a. the farm bill.

Food stamps are officially known as SNAP, the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program. SNAP is the largest of several nutrition programs managed by the Department of Agriculture. In 2008, 28 million people participated in SNAP at a cost of $38 billion. Today, 47 million do so, costing $81 billion.

Who are these people? If we randomly selected 100, 85 live below the poverty line - they make less than $900 a month. Sixty-six are kids, the elderly or disabled people, and 20 are veterans. Forty-five are nonelderly adults, and 93 U.S. born citizens. The GOP's cut would throw 2 million off the program.

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How much money do beneficiaries receive? A family of four gets $410 a month and a senior citizen $133.  Families have $14 per day and the elderly $5 to buy food. It's pretty tough to live on these amounts, unless one buys a box of mac & cheese and splits it up into three servings a day. 

SNAP is already getting a big hit in November. The spending increase provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will end, cutting the program's budget immediately by $400 million. How does this translate to monthly benefits? A family of four will lose $36 a month.

The GOP's proposal focuses on not allowing high-unemployment states to waive the work requirement for able-bodied adults without dependents. On the face of it, this makes sense, but there aren't enough jobs in those states to go around. And waivers are a much bigger problem across the board. President Obama waived a number of requirements associated with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2009, requirements that would generate huge savings if the law operated as enacted. Moreover, the Defense Department frequently waives competitive bidding to produce new weapons systems.

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In 2012, the Congressional Budget Office proposed alternative cuts that would save the government $2 trillion over the next 10 years: Cuts that include $79 billion from medical liability reform, $124 billion by gradually raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67, $1.1 trillion through health-care related revenues and $112 billion through negotiating discounts with the  pharmaceutical industry on Medicare-related drug purchases. Reforming the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program would generate $73.4 billion, a savings built into the Affordable Care Act of 2009, but another one waived because of pressure from Congress.

Republicans have an opportunity to take a leadership role on cutting spending, but not one achieved by cutting SNAP. They should go after the big ticket savings, implement the CBO's proposals and reform the waiver process across the board. not endanger vulnerable populations who need SNAP to survive on a daily basis.

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