Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Got $36...for 47 Million People or So?

What does it mean for Congress to cut food stamps by $5 billion?

Well there are 47 million Americans dependent upon the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP or food stamps). The $5 billion in cuts means about $36 less in benefits for a family of four.

What's the impact?

"Starting this month, they will get about $36 less in food assistance. That might not sound like a lot to people in the middle-class. But to qualify for SNAP in the first place, you need to make less than $1,863 a month for a family of four (or $908 for an individual). Note that these are upper limits on net income; plenty of people who get SNAP benefits make far less."

"The USDA offers four food budgets, ranging from "thrifty" to "liberal." Its strictest budget recommends spending only $1.70 to $2 per meal. That means a family of four now has two options: Eat 21 fewer meals a month, or lower spending to less than $1.40 per person per meal, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities."
""The idea that people can make up for this by shopping differently just isn't realistic," Joel Berg, director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, told the New York Daily News. "They can't and they won't. They'll go hungry and have less food.""
"And the foods they will be pushed towards probably won't be fresh fruits and vegetables. In the United States,poverty tracks strongly with obesity, which is why, The Atlantic's Chin Jou argued earlier this year, the cuts will be particularly devastating:
Households affected by these SNAP cuts will have to contend with desperately tight grocery budgets that will constrain their ability to buy healthy food, making it easier for them to become obese. Having less money to spend on food could prompt SNAP recipients to buy more calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods that contribute to both weight gain and malnourishment. With the exception of a few items like beans and potatoes, many of the cheapest grocery offerings are highly processed foods packed with health advocates' maligned trinity of salt, sugar, and fat. [The Atlantic]"
"One alternative to SNAP are food banks and private charities — but many of them claim they are overwhelmed. Jan Pruitt, director of the North Texas Food Bank, claimed to KERA News that her organization nearly ran out of food last summer, and "with SNAP cuts adding to the line at a time when we're struggling to get ahead of the curve, it's just nearly impossible.""
""We do not have the capacity to meet that demand," Michael Kantor, spokesman for the Second Harvest Food Bank in New Orleans, told the Times-Picayune. "Private charities simply can't fill that gap.""
"Rachel Sheffield of the conservative Heritage Foundation argued that the government was "not cutting the program" because the $5 billion boost "was only meant to be temporary.""
Following that same logic, perhaps Ms. Sheffield might want to re-assess the Heritage Foundation's characterization of the expiration of the 'temporary' payroll tax cut as 'an enormous, unprecedented tax increase' since it, like the $5 billion of additional funding for SNAP, was meant to address the Great Recession.
Or maybe she might want to find an alternative to the $5 billion that has just been taken out of circulation in the U.S. economy. 
Or just come up with a humane way to feed hungry children...

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