Listen to the Evidence: Protect SNAP

By Randi Hall

In a recent hearing on the use of evidence to guide federal investments in social policy held by the Subcommittee on Human Resources in the House Committee on Ways and Means, a witness invited by the Republican majority, John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises, highlighted the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as a program with a strong backing in evidence.  Bridgeland cited a 2014 longitudinal study of SNAP that illustrates the program helps to “[address] severe malnutrition and alleviate hunger,” while also increasing employment rates and reducing welfare receipt of poor mothers. 

In spite of the strong evidence of the effectiveness of SNAP benefits, the U.S. House and Senate Republican leadership have outlined FY2016 budget proposals that would slash SNAP and steeply cut the social safety net for millions of low-income children and families. In particular, the House budget would convert the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) into a block grant and cut $125 billion from the program between 2021 and 2025.Turning SNAP into a block grant would mean that states receive a set amount of allocated funding for the program, which would dismantle the program’s current ability to expand during an economic decline to serve the growing needs of families as it did in the recent recession, and then retract as the economy recovers.

As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains, the House budget’s cuts would come on top of recent and upcoming reductions that families and individuals are already experiencing. The 2014 Farm Bill cut SNAP spending by an estimated $8.6 billion over a decade.   In addition, over a million unemployed workers are projected to lose benefits in 2016 due to SNAP time limits.  

If Congress agrees once again to cut SNAP spending it could undermine the economic recovery for millions of low-income households. The Congressional Budget Office has conducted analyses of the effects of cutting SNAP spending by 15%, or $77 billion, in 2016. CBO examined the economic impacts on low-income households of three possible strategies to achieve this reduction:

  • Reduce the maximum SNAP benefit by 13 percent for all participants.  This would hurt households with incomes below $15,000 the most, decreasing their total annual income by 4 percent.
  • Increase the benefit phase-out rate from 30 to 49 percent. If the benefit phase-out rate were raised, SNAP benefits for households earning between $25,000 and $32,000 would fall by almost $1,200 a year.
  • Reduce the monthly income limit for eligibility from 130 to 67 percent of the federal poverty line. This change would affect households making between $15,000 and $25,000 the hardest, reducing their annual SNAP benefits by nearly 40 percent. 

Congressional Budget Office analysis of the effects of total SNAP Benefits in 2016 of three options to reduce SNAP spending by 15 percent.

According to U.S. Census data, SNAP lifted as many as 3.7 million people out of poverty in 2013.  Shrinking SNAP benefits would affect the country’s most vulnerable populations and would increase food insecurity among poor children.  Congress should listen to John Bridgeland, listen to the evidence, and preserve this highly effective program.