Multiple Threats to SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) Looming

Nick Wood, RESULTS U.S. Poverty Policy Volunteer
March 22, 2016

Despite House Speaker Paul Ryan’s important focus on poverty in America, the House Republican budget unveiled last week features extreme changes to the administration of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps) and a drastic reduction in the amount provided to assist Americans living in hunger. The broader House Budget proposal to make aggressive budget cuts affects people of limited means the most; 60 percent of the overall reduction in domestic spending comes straight from low-income programs. Critically important nutrition assistance and public health programs would be reduced by 40 percent in just ten years time.

It is worth noting that these proposed cuts and changes to SNAP come at a time that over 500,000 unemployed childless adults are set to lose SNAP benefits this year.  As of this year, many more Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents (“ABAWD”s, as the law refers) face limits of 3 months on the amount of time they can receive food assistance during any 3-year period when they aren’t employed or in a work or training program for at least 20 hours a week. The impact of the 3 month time limit will first begin to be felt next month, and many states where unemployment rates are still high have made the decision to not seek a waiver of these time limits.

The House Budget package continues a Republican push to administer SNAP as part of a consolidated federal block grant to states, which advocates worry would make the programs less effective in fighting poverty and, in particular, less able to respond during a recession when more people are likely to need assistance to get by during periods of job loss. The Great Recession resulted in a large increase in the US poverty rate and a simultaneous increase in applications for food assistance – in other words, SNAP was doing its job. SNAP is a powerful anti-poverty program – the Census Bureau estimates SNAP lifted 4.7 million Americans above the federal poverty line in 2014.

As if to underscore the concern over block grant administration, House  Ways and Means Chair Kevin Brady (R-TX-8) has begun a simultaneous push to repeal the current Social Service Block Grant that provides crucial assistance directly to states for an array of health and human service issues and primarily serves children, seniors, and people with disabilities. Ironically, cuts of this nature tend to affect poorer states the most so large regions in the South and other areas with higher numbers of citizens who struggle economically would be disproportionately impacted.

To be clear, these proposed changes are not expected to become law this year, and may not even come before the full House of Representatives. However, this package is important because of broader fights ahead about the future of anti-poverty programs. This proposal, along with the 2016 election cycle and House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Task Force on Poverty, could have a big impact on this debate. The House Budget proposal targets those who are already struggling and, if this or a similar proposal were enacted, would send a shock through the social safety net that states and localities would be ill-prepared to deal with. The combined effect of all of the changes would put a greater strain on every facet of daily life for many Americans — from taking care of their children, to taking care of their own health, or being able to seek better employment opportunities.  Drastic legislative actions like these would have far reaching consequences and erode any chance millions of Americans have of building a better life for themselves.

Want to speak up against proposed cuts to SNAP? Tailor RESULTS letter to the editor to tell your own story, and why you think the program matters! And amplify your message about protecting SNAP and other key anti-poverty programs by using the Coalition on Human Needs's House Budget Social Media Toolkit