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/