Statement attributable to Jim Weill, President, Food Research and Action Center.
March 20, 2012 – Washington, D.C. – The budget proposed today by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) would abandon the many strengths of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), increase hunger and joblessness, and harm the economy. Seventy-seven percent of voters, moreover, oppose cutting SNAP.
For decades, SNAP, the new name for food stamps, has enjoyed strong bipartisan support and has helped ensure the poorest and hungriest people in our nation can put food on the table. SNAP’s responsiveness to unemployment proved it to be one of the most effective safety net programs during the recent recession, providing families with a stable source of food. Households are facing impossible choices among food, home heating, gasoline, rent, medicine and other basic needs. FRAC’s most recent look at food hardship found that nearly one in five Americans said there were times they didn’t have enough money to buy food that they or their families needed in 2011. No state or urban area or congressional district is anywhere close to being hunger-free.
Destroying SNAP’s structure by converting it to a block grant would render it unable to respond swiftly in times of need. Under Chairman Ryan’s block grant structure for food assistance accompanied – according to a Budget Committee spokesperson – by a $122.5 billion funding cut, states would be faced with impossible choices as need increased: Do they cut benefits, or do they place children and seniors on waiting lists for food assistance? And this doesn’t even take into consideration the ability of states to administer the program. In commenting on a recent report regarding shortcomings in state administration by the Center for Public Integrity, the New York Times editorial page noted that states “generally have a poor record of taking care of their neediest citizens, and could not be relied on to maintain lifeline programs like food stamps if Washington just wrote them checks and stopped paying attention.”
FRAC has documented the remarkable decline in spending by low-income families over the last decade. The median family with income less than 185 percent of the federal poverty line fell from spending more than the government’s bare-bones “Thrifty Food Plan” diet in 2000 to spending five percent less in 2010. Chairman Ryan’s budget would accelerate this downward decline to a fall off a cliff.
Numerous studies, moveover, have shown that SNAP as currently structured not only reduces food insecurity but also reduces poverty, is a hugely cost-effective driver of economic growth, and creates jobs.
This is the time to strengthen, not weaken, our nation’s nutrition safety net. A January poll conducted by Hart Research for FRAC demonstrated broad support among Americans for the federal nutrition programs and opposition to cuts. Seven in 10 voters said the federal government should have a major role in ensuring that low-income families and children have the food and nutrition they need. Seventy-seven percent of voters said that cutting SNAP would be the wrong way to reduce government spending.
Chairman Ryan’s proposal to destroy the structure of the program and slash its funding is an old idea that has always been misconceived, and that places the burden of deficit reduction on the most vulnerable among us. Congress should oppose this misguided and harmful effort, as well as the other attempts to shred our nation’s safety net.