The Never Ending Election

5

November 12, 2012 by blistenfelt

“What are the economic and social arguments for or against the proposals to cut $16.5 billion from SNAP over the next 10 years?”

Before presenting these arguments, I would like to raise a separate question: “How much are these economic and social arguments a representation of personal agendas and preservation of politicians and industry representatives or true concern regarding the economic and social environment of the United States?” Both the House and Senate passed different versions of the 2012 Farm Bill several months ago, yet no single bill has been signed into law, even though the 2008 version expired October 1, 2012. This isn’t surprising given that 2012 is an election year and politicians were concerned how the Farm Bill may alter their image to the constituents due to the large cost of the bill (nearly $1 trillion) or cuts to certain programs in the bill including SNAP. And now, with the election over, a “lame duck” session will begin tomorrow and we can finally get a Farm Bill passed. Or, more likely, one will be passed next year after the new Congress is sworn in. This may sound like I am rambling, and partially I am because the above process frustrates me to no end, but I do actually have a point. I wonder, how beneficial can a bill be to farmers, program recipients, and taxpayers on the whole if this is the process we have to endure to pass a bill that has a significant impact on people’s lives? Regardless of how you feel about crop subsidies, insurance, etc, farmers look to the Farm Bill to provide guidance regarding what they are going to plant and the extent to which farming can support their livelihood. I am not talking about large corporations farming here, but rather the small and medium sized farms that comprise my hometown in Indiana and many other towns who rely on the quality and price of their crop to keep the heat on in their house and food on the table. Individuals and families eligible for SNAP also rely on the Farm Bill to continue providing money that supports their ability to put food on the table as well. So regardless of the social and economic arguments for or against cuts in SNAP funding, the lack of a new Farm Bill after the expiration of the previous bill warrants discussion as well.

The Senate version of the Farm Bill that was passed in June seeks to cut $4.5 billion from SNAP over the next 10 years by tightening the eligibility requirements (such as not allowing lottery winners to receive SNAP) (1) while the House version wishes to cut $16.5 billion by tightening eligibility requirements and through the loss of SNAP benefits to 2 to 3 million people at a time when SNAP benefits are at an all time high (2). From July 2007 to July 2012, SNAP participation has increased 75% from 26.6 million individuals to nearly 46.7 individuals (3). In this tough economy, this number will most likely continue to increase as individuals remain either unemployed or underemployed. Many social groups argue that now is the time that Congress should be adding to and strengthening public assistance programs such as SNAP (1) while others argue that tougher SNAP eligibility and an improved economy could save billions in a time of astronomical spending and debt (4). So who is right?

While tougher SNAP eligibility could save billions, the Farm Bill alone is not sufficient to untangle and improve the complicated web of public assistance eligibility rules, screening, and organizational staffing, procedural considerations, etc that are responsible for waste in SNAP and other social programs. While the Senate bill is a step in the right direction by restricting SNAP eligibility of lottery winners, this type of misuse of taxpayer money should have never occurred in the first place. I have no doubt that this is not the only example of misuse of SNAP funds and eligibility, but the Farm Bill cannot, and should not, be the only avenue to improving the eligibility process for SNAP. I am afraid that in trying to prevent SNAP misuse, many more individuals legitimately in need of SNAP will be denied access than will those intentionally trying to skirt the system. A stronger economy could also potentially save billions of dollars in SNAP funds, but a Farm Bill will most certainly not strengthen the economy on its own. The flip side of trying to cut spending is the argument that now is not the time to worry about saving money and cutting spending (particularly to public assistance programs) when so many people are struggling. This is a tough argument because no one wants to use susceptible Americans in an experiment to determine how much you can cut spending before you negatively effect their ability to provide shelter, food, and other basic necessities to themselves and their families. On the other hand, we cannot continue to increase the deficit at the current rate.

Sources:                                                                                                                                                                          1. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/22/us/politics/senate-passes-farm-bill-but-tougher-road-seen-in-house.html?_r=0                                                                                         2. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/13/us/politics/house-agriculture-committee-agrees-on-farm-bill.html?_r=1&ref=us                                                                                         3. http://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/snapdata2012_july.pdf                                    4. http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2012/11/new-farm-bill-might-help-president-and-congress-scale-fiscal-cliff/

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “The Never Ending Election

  1. Elizabeth says:

    You clearly represented every angle in this issue – “bla bla, but ON THE OTHER HAND, bla bla, but ALSO…”. It’s a tough debate to have when so many people clearly need federal assistance, and yet the government is not in a position to keep spending money, so I too had trouble picking a side when writing about this issue.

    However, you are right in saying that the Farm Bill in itself is not the place to try and improve the economy. Assuming that congress is able to work somewhat effectively and get things moving again, it won’t / shouldn’t be the responsibility of the farm bill to cut SNAP spending as the issue will resolve itself once people get jobs and household incomes start to rise.

    One can only hope that this will actually happen. Oh, and we need to get a 2012 Farm Bill passed and signed into law 🙂

  2. lizzyannsanders says:

    You really did a great job articulating this tough issue. Not only do we have to worry about the affects of cutting SNAP funding on millions of Americans, we also have to worry about the effects of all of this political jockeying and stalling of the farm bill on American farmers.
    I know little about lobbying and the political process, but it is interesting to think about the players on each side of this debate. Powerful agricultural lobbies often push the odds in favor cutting SNAP funding. SNAP is not the only aspect of the farm bill that has the potential to be scaled back. If congress is really aiming to save money, they have the option of cutting funding from other aspects of the farm bill. This seems unlikely, however, due to strong lobbying in favor of huge subsidies for crops and the fact that SNAP is essentially a supplemental assistance program, and not meant to provide the bulk of food for American families.

  3. hpworley says:

    You make so many good points and one can rationalize either side of the equation when trying to answer to the economic and social arguments for or against 16.5 million SNAP budget cuts. Obviously budget cuts need to be made. I don’t believe SNAP was developed with the intent that it would be used by such a large percentage of the population. Nor was it intended to serve as family’s entire food budget, hence the name “Supplemental.” That being said as a mother, I can’t imagine the complete fear and anguish of not being able to feed your child. Based on the budget cuts $280,000 children would be denied free or reduced lunch. For many of these kids it may be the only meal they eat in a day. In 2011, 14 million children (3 million under 5 years old) were provided emergency food assistance from Feeding America (1). Like you said, I would be fearful that in an effort to eliminate those that misuse the system, those who truly need it could be denied. Through a little Google searching I found the special ABC news did on Hunger in America (2). All of these clips provide information and stories on those in need but the clip titled, “14.7M children in poverty” tells the story of malnourished children recovering at a growth clinic in Boston (2). With those statistics and images in mind it makes it a little easier to argue against budget cuts to SNAP, when there are undoubtedly other areas that could be trimmed with less devastating consequences than malnutrition in this country of abundance.

    1) Feeding America. (2012). Child Hunger Facts. Retrieved from http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-facts/child-hunger-facts.aspx

    2) Brown, K. (24 August 2011). Hunger in America [ABC news]. World News with Diane Sawyer. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/US/hunger_at_home/hunger-home-american-children-malnourished/story?id=14367230#.ULPJ2MXEGUk

  4. afrazzini says:

    Hi Barb,

    It is undoubtedly true that there are some poorly-used funds within SNAP. Government programs that large are inherently bureaucratic and imperfect, but with modern-day technology we should be able to cut down on a fair amount of red tape and streamline certain processes. I would argue, however, that some policies which should theoretically save money often actually end up costing money because of what’s required for their implementation. The government has to conduct or commission very thorough cost-benefit analyses in order to determine which policies are truly cost-saving.

    I bring this up because your mention of the lottery winners reminded me of the arguments over fingerprinting in New York. For a little while, the state of New York required people applying for food stamps to be fingerprinted, ostensibly to reduce the amount of food stamp fraud and save taxpayer money. But the truth is that rates of fraud are actually pretty low (1), and have been on the decline since the 1990s. The Government Accountability Office and Congressional Budget Office both find SNAP to be one of the most efficient national benefits programs (2). And the actual cost of implementing the finger-printing policy was $187,364 per year – whether or not that amount of money was made up for in savings is up for debate (3). And the social costs of the finger-printing were large – many eligible citizens did not participate in SNAP because of the added stigma, fear, and time of fingerprinting.

    New York Gov. Cuomo has pledged to end the fingerprinting requirement for that state, but as far as I know Texas, California, and Arizona are still committed to the policy. Interesting to note that these are all states with large immigrant populations – doe these states have more fraud than elsewhere, or do they simply have more fear of fraud?

    Ali

    1) U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. Benefit Redemption Patterns in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Final Report. February 2011. http://www.fns.usda.gov/ora/menu/Published/SNAP/FILES/ProgramOperations/ARRASpendingPatterns.pdf

    2) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-blumenthal/food-stamp-myths_b_1334924.html

    3) http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/10/13/does-fingerprinting-food-stamp-recipients-save-money/

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: