SNAP Benefits in the Crosshairs of Debate on Spending

Mar 20, 2013

By Helly Lee and Lavanya Mohan 

The budget resolutions introduced last week by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray are miles apart on funding for anti-poverty programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid.

The Ryan budget proposes drastic changes.  It would slash SNAP by $135 billion and Medicaid by $810 billion over 10 years through new block grants-cutting off tens of millions of people from critical health and nutrition assistance. With so many still struggling to make ends meet after a brutal recession, this is the wrong idea at the wrong time.  As our colleague, Elizabeth Lower-Basch has explained, claims that block granting has been successful for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program are deeply flawed and misguided, and  SNAP and Medicaid are even less suited for such an approach. While the Ryan budget claims to protect the safety net, his approach would actually shred it, making it less responsive to the needs of low-income people.

The Murray budget takes a different approach to safety net programs and does not call for fundamental changes. Her budget acknowledges the effectiveness of SNAP in responding to the needs of millions of people during the recession. Part of what makes SNAP so effective is that it responds to changes in the economy. This also means that it decreases as the economy recovers and less people depend on it to make ends meet - a trend we expect to observe over the next ten years.

Furthermore, while the Ryan budget proposes to repeal the expansion of Medicaid in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Murray budget maintains it.

These resolutions do not set spending levels and will not become law, but they do serve as a guiding framework for Congress as it works on budget bills.  As Congress debates spending priorities in the coming months, it is critical to protect safety net programs and ensure that low-income individuals are not shouldering the cost of a balanced budget.

Threats to SNAP continue outside of the budget debate as well with Senator Pat Roberts' bill, S. 458, proposing drastic cuts totaling $36 billion. These cuts target nutrition programs despite the mounting research that shows the positive effects of SNAP on early childhood development, with continued positive effects on adult outcomes. In contrast, Congressman Jim McGovern continues the fight to ensure SNAP is protected through H.Res. 90. That bill, which has a growing list of co-sponsors, expresses the sense of the House that SNAP funding should be fully maintained in any upcoming legislation.

CLASP will continue to monitor the progress of current and prospective legislation affecting SNAP benefits and the impact they have on low-income families. 

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