What’s the beef with SNAP?

Over the last few months, Congress and the president have been wrangling over a new farm bill without any resolution. The biggest bone of contention appears to be the food stamp program, which is officially dubbed the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). Republicans seem to believe many of the able-bodied SNAP recipients are scamming the system and need more incentives to either work additional hours or participate in job training programs. Meanwhile, Democrats seem to believe increased work and job training requirements are sinister attempts to reduce costs on the backs of the truly needy. Both sides have put their own misleading spins on the facts.

FactCheck.org, a self-described “nonpartisan, nonprofit ‘consumer advocate’ for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics” notes “the facts cited by the two sides appear to conflict wildly.” Surprise! Surprise! For more on that checkout www.factcheck.org/2018/05/facts-on-food-stamp-work-requirements.

As a first course, in his 2019 budget request to Congress, the President proposed the America’s Harvest Box program, which seems to be rotting on the vine. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “Under the USDA America’s Harvest Box proposal, all Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participating households receiving $90 per month or more in benefits will receive a package of nutritious, 100-percent U.S. grown and produced food. Approximately 16.4 million households, or about 81 percent of SNAP households would be impacted by this proposal.”

That proposal is stinky as a limburger cheese and onion sandwich. In a recent Forbes magazine article, Phil Lambert, The SupermarketGuru, (see www.supermarketguru.com) shared parts of a discussion he had with Frank DiPasquale, former executive vice president of the National Grocers Association and former CEO of the School Nutrition Association. Mr. DiPasquale said “so, the party of the limited government wants to dictate what people should eat each and every day? Appears that way. The SNAP program has been one of the most efficient Federal programs, and [it] ranks as one for the lowest fraud rate of any Federal program — is under assault.” So, what’s the beef? Why fix something that isn’t broke?

Also, according to the USDA, the America’s Harvest Box “proposal would save $129.2 billion over the ten-year period between Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 and FY 2028. This estimate accounts for about $2.5 billion annually in additional administrative funds for states.” It defies logic that creating a government bureaucracy to acquire, package, and deliver food to 40 million households per month could reduce costs, especially as “the remainder of the households’ benefits would still be provided via the current Electronic Benefit Transfer card.” However, it’s easy to imagine America’s Harvest Box would be a smorgasbord for lobbyists.

In conversations a little closer to the bone, adult students in one of my recent economics classes posted the following opinions based on their experiences. From the perspective of a SNAP recipient, one student noted “what I found to be wrong with the food stamp system was the fact that a 20-dollar a week raise could mean losing $200 a month in food stamps. This math is not correct. If working less means that I benefit more, then that is a flaw. I could understand if that $20-a-week raise caused me to lose $20 a week in food stamps, but it did not do that. A person should benefit more from working more rather than from working less.”

In contrast, from the perspective of taxpayer, a second student said “I worked for a time at a retail store that accepted food stamps. There were times that it was hard to not be upset at the things people bought with them, such as candy and pop. Meanwhile, I was making barely above minimum wage and not buying those items for myself because I needed my money for bills. I understand that there are some families who desperately need it, but there is a serious problem with fraudulent activities around food stamps.”

Rise in number of recipients

Whatever side of the food-stamp fence you are on, the number of SNAP recipients is staggering. The chart shows the number of food stamp/SNAP recipients as portion of the U.S. population has increased more than tenfold over the last 50 years. In 1968, only slightly more 1 percent of the U.S. population received food stamps; the latest statistics from the USDA show more than 12 percent of the U.S. population is currently participating in SNAP.

One reason for the long-term increase in food stamp/SNAP recipients is the shrinking middle class. Granted, the robust U.S. economy has reducedthe number of SNAP participants from the all-time highs set in 2013, but, in recent years, low-income households as a portion of all households have increased. Despite a falling unemployment rate, wages have stagnated, and some middle-income households have now fallen into the low-income category and qualify for SNAP.

Closer to home, statistics from the USDA for the 21st Congressional District paint a similar picture; 41,274 of 277,069 households received SNAP benefits in January 2018. Those households had an average (median) income of $18,448. Almost 40 percent of them had one or more people 60 years old or older; slightly more than one-third had children under the age of 18, and about 55 percent had one or more disabled individuals. Note: Those categories sum to more than 100 percent because they are somewhat overlapping.

Rotten tomatoes

So far, the President’s and Congress’s performances on passing a farm bill is worthy of tossing a few rotten tomatoes their way. Playing politics with hunger is as rotten as it gets.

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