May 2013 U.S. Poverty Action
Take Action! Urge Congress to Protect SNAP in Farm Bill
Both House and Senate Agriculture Committees have passed a new Farm Bill, which includes reauthorizing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). Unfortunately, both versions of the Farm Bill include cuts to SNAP. The Senate is expected to debate and vote on its Farm Bill the week of May 20, while the full House will not up their Farm Bill until June. Use this time to build support for undoing these cuts by following up with agriculture aides for your representatives and senators, urging them to protect SNAP in the final Farm Bill.
Note: Find SNAP data from your state using fact sheets from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. To find contact information for congressional offices and the name of the aide who handles agricultural issues including SNAP, visit our Elected Officials page (http://capwiz.com/results/dbq/officials/). For directory assistance, you can also contact the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.
Congress Looks to Cut Nutrition Assistance When It Is Helping Millions
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) is the first line of defense against hunger in America. Currently, over 47 million people — almost half of them children — receive SNAP benefits; that’s nearly triple the monthly average in 2000 (17 million). SNAP has also been integral in helping families during the Great Recession. According to the U.S. Census, SNAP kept 4.7 million people stay out of poverty in 2011. Also, a recent study from Iowa State University shows that SNAP reduces hunger in children by 25 percent and poor health outcomes in children by 35 percent. In addition, SNAP is a key economic stimulus for local economies. Every dollar in SNAP benefits spent creates nearly two dollars in economic activity. Economist Mark Zandi has said that the fastest way to infuse money into the economy is by increasing SNAP benefits.
Despite SNAP’s efficiency and effectiveness, SNAP benefits are already set to be cut in November 2013, when the temporary benefit boost passed in 2009 ends. For a family of three, the cut likely will be $240 to $300 per year, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates (see the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities state breakdown of the cuts for more details). This cuts comes at a time when, for millions of Americans, the Great Recession is not over.
Both the House and Senate are looking to cut SNAP even further in a new Farm Bill. On May 14, the Senate Agriculture Committee met to mark up its new Farm Bill. The Senate Farm Bill (S.954) contains $4.1 billion in cuts to SNAP, primarily to Heat and Eat programs (see details below). The bill passed out of Committee 15-5, with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) being the only "no " vote because of the SNAP cuts. It's expected that the full Senate will debate and vote on the Farm Bill the week of May 20. Sen. Gillibrand plans to introduce an amendment on the Senate floor to undo these cuts and she is currently looking for other senators to co-sponsor her amendment (update: her amendment failed 70-26).
News is worse in the House. The House Agriculture Committee met on May 15. The House Farm Bill (H.R.1947) contains $21 billion in cuts to SNAP over ten years, primarily by eliminating state flexibility to enroll people in SNAP (called "categorical eligibility") and a deeper cut to Heat and Eat programs (see details below). Rep. Jim McGovern offered an amendment to undo the SNAP cuts in the bill, but it was defeated 27-10. In the end, the bill passed out of committee by a vote of 36-10, with eight representatives voting no because of the SNAP cuts: Reps. David Scott (D-GA-13), Marcia Fudge (D-OH-11), Jim McGovern (D-MA-2), Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-CA-35), Filemon Vela (D-TX-34), Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM-1), Juan Vargas (D-CA-51), and Joe Courtney (D-CT-2). The full House is expected to take up the Farm Bill sometime in June and Rep. McGovern intends to offer his amendment to restore the SNAP benefits during the floor debate.
Specific Threats to SNAP in the 2013 Farm Bills
The cuts to SNAP in the Senate and House Farm Bills mainly center around two provisions. The Senate Farm Bill includes $4.1 billion in cuts to SNAP over ten years. This cut comes from so-called “Heat and Eat” programs. Heat and Eat programs allow states to boost SNAP benefits for households that also qualify for a minimal benefit from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP benefit). This allows low-income families to avoid the harsh choice of buying food or paying the electric bill. Eliminating this option will deny meals for many children, seniors, and persons living with disabilities. It’s estimated that the Senate cut will reduce SNAP benefits for 400,000 households by an average of $90 per month. Currently, the District of Columbia and 15 states (California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin) have “Heat and Eat” programs.
The House Farm Bill includes $38 billion in total Farm Bill cuts, with $20 billion coming out of SNAP. It also includes a cut to “Heat and Eat” policies, but double that of the Senate. Under the House plan, 1.7 million Heat and Eat recipients would see their benefits drop by an average of $90. More disturbingly, the House bill would also eliminate the Categorical Eligibility (“Cat El”) option many state’s now use. Cat El allows states to adjust asset and gross income tests when determining eligibility for SNAP. Under regular federal rules, SNAP must have gross income less than 130 percent of the federal poverty level or FPL (about $33,000 for a family of four) and may not have more than $2,000 in assets (households with seniors or persons with disabilities have higher thresholds). These barriers can prevent otherwise eligible persons from getting SNAP. For example, if a family earns more than 130 FPL but has high child care costs that put their disposable income well below the poverty line, they cannot get SNAP. Furthermore, the outdated federal asset test (which has not changed in 25 years) creates a deterrent for many families by preventing otherwise eligible low-income people from receiving SNAP and discouraging low-income families to save. RESULTS volunteers understand the importance of policies that help low-income families build and maintain assets as a path from poverty to prosperity.
Fortunately, Cat El provides these families some help. Cat El gives states the option to raise the gross income test to 200 FPL and raise or eliminate the asset test. It was created as part of the 1996 welfare reform law to allow states to align their eligibility requirements for SNAP with other programs funded through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, i.e. welfare). Not only does it provide families needing help access to SNAP, it also reduces streamlines state procedures by letting caseworkers screen applicants through one, rather than numerous, eligibility tests. Currently, 40 states and the District of Columbia take advantage of Cat El (see full list at: http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/rules/Memo/BBCE.pdf). The House bill would eliminate this state flexibility. Estimates are that eliminating Cat El will force nearly 2 million people off SNAP and deny 210,000 children access to free school meals (their school meals are tied to their families SNAP benefits). It will also discourage others from building/maintaining savings that can help them avoid homelessness or further hardship.
As Congress considers deficit reduction later in 2013, powerful factions in Washington could again target SNAP for major cuts as a way to save money. The House budget resolution (passed 220-207) takes a chainsaw to the social safety net with massive cuts to SNAP, Medicaid, tax credits, and other programs. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that 66 percent of the cuts in the Ryan plan come from programs that help low- and moderate-income Americans. The Senate budget (passed 50-49) does not include cuts to SNAP. The House and Senate will not reach a final budget deal, but these plans greatly influence how the House and Senate move forward the rest of this year. Congress and President Obama may reach an agreement on an overall deficit reduction framework (which could include cuts to SNAP on top of whatever is in the Farm Bill) later this summer or early fall when negotiating action to address the federal debt limit. Let’s stand up and tell Congress to do what is right — protect hungry children and families by protecting and strengthening SNAP!
We reviewed the latest on threats to vital nutrition programs, along with progress on all of our 2013 campaigns, on our RESULTS May 2013 National Conference Call — Saturday, May 11, 2013 at 12:30 pm ET. Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham was our guest speaker. You can listen to a recording of the call and download the PowerPoint slides from the call at: http://www.results.org/skills_center/results_national_conference_calls/.