Reform, don't just cut Food Stamps

Published on Friday, 27 September 2013 23:12 - Written by

Republicans shouldn’t try to have it both ways. They can’t excoriate President Barack Obama on the economy, and the paltry job growth that limits first-time and low-skill jobseekers, and at the same time demand cuts in the food stamps the poor and working poor are depending on in this lingering recession.

What’s more, cuts to food stamps are meaningless without reform to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, the formal name for food stamps).

Now, several of the right’s leading think tanks are offering this advice.

“There’s been an 80 percent rise since 2007 in the number people on food stamps, officially the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” the American Enterprise Institute reports. “Liberal groups are aghast that House Republicans want to cut $40 billion over ten years from the $80 billion a year program. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calls the House GOP bill ‘harsh.’ The CBPP notes that many of the 3 million to 4 million Americans losing benefits are unemployed, childless adults in high unemployment areas and ‘low-income families who have gross incomes above the federal SNAP limits but disposable income below the poverty line.’”

Those are people that even the Republicans acknowledge need help in this economic climate. That’s why the GOP shouldn’t be in such a hurry to cut food stamps for the sake of cutting.

“Indeed, long-term unemployment remains abnormally and persistently high more than four years after the recession’s official end,” AEI says. “A recent study on America’s back-to-back-to-back jobless recoveries has more questions than answers. If GOPers are looking for budget savings, (economist Tyler) Cowen suggests ‘more wasteful targets, including Medicare and also defense spending, not to mention farm subsidies.’”

The Heritage Foundation, another heavy hitter on the right, agrees that cuts without reform would be ineffective (the next Congress could come along and restore the funding, and we’d be back where we started).

The Foundation’s Rachel Sheffield says the first step should be to separate food stamps from the farm subsidies and guarantees in the rest of the Farm Bill. The next step would be to do what worked so well with welfare reform in 1996.

“The current bill encourages work among able-bodied recipients but only through an optional program,” she writes. “To encourage self-sufficiency and independence for all, food stamps should be converted into a work activation program. A new reform should make it mandatory — rather than merely optional, as the House proposal does — for states that receive federal food stamp dollars to implement a work program for able-bodied adult recipients. Similar to the 1996 welfare reform, a new reform should require able-bodied adults to work, prepare for work, or at the very least look for work in exchange for receiving food stamp assistance.”

Is there fraud and waste in the food stamp programs? Of course. But simple cuts in funding will do nothing to reform the system. In fact, as we’ve seen in the recent “sequestration” debacle, the Obama administration is willing to make sure that cuts “hurt” to create political pressure for restored funding.