Proposed SNAP Cuts Would Result in Millions of Empty Dinner Tables

May 13, 2013

By Helly Lee and Lavanya Mohan

Update (6/11/2013): On the evening of June 10th, the Senate approved a 5 year Farm Bill by a vote of 66 to 27. The bill contains over $4 billion in cuts to SNAP. The House of Representatives is expected to bring their Farm Bill (with nearly $21 billion in cuts to SNAP) to the floor the week of June 17th.

Updat(5/22/2013): The full Senate began consideration of the Farm Bill on Monday, May 20th. The Senate is considering amendments to the bill, many of which propose to make further cuts into SNAP. Contact your Senator now to urge that they protect SNAP and VOTE NO on amendments that would weaken SNAP!

Update (5/20/2013): The Senate Agriculture Committee debated the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 (also known as the Farm Bill) and voted on amendments on Tuesday, May 14th. The bill, which includes over $4 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), was passed in committee by a 15-5 vote. The bill will next go to the Senate floor for further debate as early as May 20th.

The House Agriculture Committee debated the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act on May 15th. The bill was approved in committee by a vote of 36-10 and is expected to be taken up by the full House in June. The House bill includes $20.5 billion in cuts to SNAP.

This week, both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees will mark up their versions of a Farm Bill that includes provisions on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Despite the program’s effectiveness—helping over 47 million people afford nutritionally adequate meals and make ends meet—and a long history of bipartisan support, SNAP continues to face threats of deep cuts.

The Senate Agriculture Committee is aiming for $23 billion in savings over 10 years with $4.1 billion in cuts to SNAP benefits. These cuts would come from changes to “heat and eat” rules, which allow states to coordinate the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHAEP) with SNAP benefits for those who may otherwise have to choose between maintaining their home energy costs or purchasing food. These changes would result in reduced SNAP benefits for many households, particularly those with elderly and disabled family members who would otherwise receive minimal SNAP benefits. This would come on top of SNAP cuts already scheduled to take effect in November.

In the House, Agriculture Committee Chairman Lucas (R-OK) has indicated that he will be seeking  even deeper cuts in the Farm Bill than were proposed last year. And of the $39.7 billion in cuts he is proposing over the next decade, well over half ($20.5 billion) would come out of SNAP. This is a major increase over the $16 billion in SNAP cuts the House proposed in last year’s Farm Bill. In addition to cutting “heat and eat,” the House bill would eliminate broad-based categorical eligibility, a state option that allows the alignment of SNAP eligibility with other low-income programs.

Currently, forty-three states and territories implement some form of broad-based categorical eligibility. According to a CBO analysis, eliminating broad-based categorical eligibility would cut off SNAP for 1.8 million individuals and undermine access to free school meals for 280,000 low-income children. Further, eliminating categorical eligibility would create larger administrative burdens for states, increasing possible error rates in the verification process and causing delays in the processing of applications. In addition to reducing red tape, states use this streamlined eligibility to update the absurdly low gross income and asset limits. Under current federal law, assets of just $2,000 disqualify families from receiving SNAP benefits. States who adopt categorical eligibility are able to raise their asset limits and to provide SNAP to households whose gross income is slightly above the federal ceiling of 130 percent of the poverty level. 

Congressman Lucas claims that his proposed cuts “won’t take a calorie off the plate of anyone who needs help.” This is clearly not true. The proposed cuts to SNAP would decrease the duration of benefits received, as well as the amount of benefits needy families receive. These cuts will deeply impact participants across the country, many of whom are still struggling to make ends meet in the slowly recovering economy.

Numerous studies show that SNAP is an effective safety-net program that promotes healthy outcomes in adults and children, boosts local economies, and eases economic hardship for families. A recent study found that more than one in six Americans are unable to afford enough food. Additionally, there is broad public support for SNAP. A recent poll found that the majority of voters believe cutting food stamp funding is the wrong way to reduce government spending. These studies affirm that Congress should strengthen, not weaken, SNAP. There is also wide support within Congress to preserve the program. Senator Gillibrand’s (D-NY) letter supporting SNAP received 33 sign-ons from her Senate colleagues, and more than 115 House members joined Congressman McGovern (D-MA) in co-sponsoring H. Res. 90 to oppose SNAP funding cuts.

This is a critical time for citizens to weigh in with their Congressional offices and show their support for the SNAP program.

See FRAC’s Legislative Action Center for talking points and information on what you can do.

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