By Ayse Unver, PHS Urban Planner & Policy Manager
Back in October (see text below), we wrote about impending cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps. SNAP had been given a temporary but critical $45.2 billion boost during the economic downturn to support families that were struggling through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). These changes provided a lifeline to many families, but the additional support was cut off effective October 31, 2013. These cuts were expected to impact 47 million Americans, including 1.8 million individuals in Pennsylvania. Adding salt to the wound were fresh cuts to the program from Congress, with the Senate proposing a $4.1 billion cut over 10 years, and the House proposing a more severe cut of $40 billion over 10 years.
So what happened?
After months of deadlock, the two sides agreed on an $8.6 billion cut over 10 years. The legislation passed through Congress in January 2014 and was signed into law by President Obama on February 7, 2014. The impact? An estimated 175,000 households in Pennsylvania will see an average loss of $65 a month, cites a recent article by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Nationwide, 850,000 households that participate in SNAP are expected to lose approximately $90 each month reports the New York Times.
As hunger is a leading concern for hundreds of nonprofits across America, it should be expected that these organizations might be able to step forward to bridge this gap. It’s unlikely, though. Feeding America, an umbrella organization for more than 200 food banks across the nation, voiced strong concerns regarding these cuts. With the sunset of additional funding through ARRA and the new cuts that were passed this year, families across the country would have to cut 3.4 billion meals from their diets. In the past, food banks were better able to keep up with the deficit, but Feeding America reports that their food banks can only provide families with approximately 3.3 billion meals, creating a deficit of 100,00 meals for families across the country. Since the recession, with a 46% increase in people receiving support from SNAP during the recession, emergency food relief sources, such as food banks, have reported that they are increasingly struggling to keep up with demand for meals. “Charity can’t make up for lost SNAP meals. Congress must protect SNAP in the Farm Bill,” urges Feeding America.
While the bill is damaging to hundreds of thousands of Americans, there are some hopeful points reflecting bipartisan compromise. Most of the SNAP provisions in the final bill were in both the House and the Senate bills, reflecting the points of commonality between the two halves of legislature. In addition, many measures were drawn from both bills to strengthen the program, while many harsher measures were excluded. This included House provisions that would require improving operations and administration of the program, but excluded severe eligibility requirements that would prevent four million people from being eligible for SNAP. In the version that was passed, the bill removes very few individuals from SNAP” says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a nonpartisan research and policy institute.
Lastly, for those who claim that reducing money to SNAP is a good thing because the system is rife with fraud, it should be noted that SNAP fraud is actually very low. Funds that are either mistakenly distributed or distributed in excess comprise only 3% of SNAP expenditures in a given year, says CPBB.
Despite Feeding America’s stance that charity can’t make up for lost SNAP meals, the passage of this most recent Farm Bill shows an even more urgent need to support emergency food relief programs such as PHS’s City Harvest program. City Harvest donates more than 20,000 pounds of produce each year, helping to feed about 1,000 families per week during the growing season, including residents of neighborhoods with some of the highest rates of poverty and food insecurity in the Philadelphia region. Learn more about City Harvest by visiting http://phsonline.org/greening/city-harvest.
From October 2013:
Food insecurity, hunger, and poor nutrition are inescapable realities for millions of Americans. Through the City Harvest program, we at PHS commit ourselves to providing food to families who are struggling to feed themselves. As such, we took notice when members of Congress recently pushed to cut the budget of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) on top of additional anticipated benefit cuts in November.
These benefits cuts will impact nearly 47 million Americans—1.8 million of whom live in Pennsylvania (0). To illustrate just how devastating the benefits cut will be to almost 2 million Pennsylvanians, take a look at the following infographic. Data to create this graphic was taken from the Food and Nutrition Service, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the United States Census Bureau.
<click image for full-size view>
A Brief Background on the November 2013 Benefit Cuts Due to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Sunset:
SNAP received a $45.2 billion boost to its budget with the passage of ARRA in 2009 to both alleviate the effects of the economic downturn and provide a boost to the economy. SNAP participation rises during times of economic hardship as unemployment increases, and this budget increase was meant to support the expected increase in SNAP enrollment (1).
In addition, since 97 percent of SNAP benefits are spent within 30 days (2) and because it has been shown that for every $5 of SNAP money spent, $9 goes into the local economy (3), this additional funding was expected to provide a boost to the economy as a whole.
When ARRA was first passed, it was expected that this additional funding would end in 2014, but due to subsequent legislation, the timeline was accelerated to October 31, 2013. So come November, 47 million Americans, almost half of whom are children, will be affected by the budget cuts along with significant decreases to their monthly SNAP disbursements (4).
A Brief Background on the Passed and Proposed Budget Cuts:
In June 2013, the Senate passed the Farm Bill, which included provisions to cut the SNAP budget by $4.1 billion over 10 years (5).
That same month, the members of the House of Representatives Agriculture Committee attempted to pass the Farm Bill with about $21 billion worth of cuts to SNAP over 10 years (6). The bill was voted down. Due to disagreement about the SNAP-related part of the Farm Bill, the section on SNAP was taken out and the Farm Bill was passed without it (7). The SNAP-specific section is now being voted on separately and the new bill being proposed would cut SNAP benefits by $40 billion over the next 10 years (8).
Due to the huge gap between the Farm Bill in the Senate and House of Representatives, it seems likely that the old Farm Bill will be in place for quite some time.
In the meantime, for more than 1,000 families a week, programs like City Harvest are more important than ever for providing healthy, nutritious food.