Oh, SNAP: cutting food won’t stamp out poverty
Two weeks ago, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted 217-210 to slash funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or “food stamps,” by $39 billion over the next 10 years.
A day later, the Wall Street Journal printed an editorial with the headline “Won’t Work for Food,” positioning the SNAP debate along classic cultural lines. As the stigma goes, food stamps help foster complacency and reliance on government over the self-drive that allegedly propels individuals and their families out of poverty.
Those in support of cutting funding for SNAP cite the ballooning enrollment numbers, which have continued to increase even as the country inches out of recession. More than one in seven Americans, or 47.7 million total, currently receive food stamps.
Those figures are indeed alarming, but here are some that are even more alarming—and far less discussed: 49 million Americans lived in food-insecure households in 2012, according to a report by the United States Department of Agriculture. That includes 7 million households that had “very low” food security at some point in 2012. Food insecurity is determined based on several indicators, including concerns about food in a household running out, inability to afford balanced meals, and rationing or cutting meals altogether.
The House vote is a startling example of policy addressing the symptom of a problem and not the cause. Rather than reining in the economic inequality that has soared over the past 30 years, House Republicans prefer to cut off 3.8 million Americans, the vast majority of whom are children, seniors or disabled, from nutritional sustenance. With regard to the argument about a culture of laziness, studies have not shown a link between hunger and a heightened work ethic.
Recently, many Americans have undergone the “SNAP Challenge” in an attempt to live on the average individual food stamp allocation of $4.50 per day. Students on the Washington University campus, plus public figures like Saint Louis Bread Company CEO Ron Shaich, every major democratic New York City mayoral candidate and New Jersey Mayor (and 2013 Commencement speaker) Cory Booker, are among the participants in the SNAP Challenge. As expected, reports of food insecurity indicators have dominated the feedback from participants.
The SNAP Challenge is somewhat misleading because 75 percent of Americans supplement food stamps with their own grocery spending. But this tidbit only further demonstrates the feeble reasoning behind arguments to cut SNAP funding. The food stamp rolls are not filled with the slothful welfare queens that House Republicans would like to imagine but rather with a combination of both impoverished and middle-class Americans facing a very real, ever-present issue of hunger.
The House bill will likely be dead upon arrival in the Senate, but support from so many government leaders for legislation that posits hunger as a solution to economic woes should disturb people of all political affiliations.