Hardship in America, 2013: SNAP Cuts Are No Cause for Thanks

November 27, 2013 at 9:02 am

As Thanksgiving approaches, we’ve taken a closer look this week at hardship in America.  Our final post in the series explains how cuts to SNAP are affecting families.

This Thanksgiving Day, while many of us try to find room on the table for yet another pumpkin pie, many Americans who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) will face empty cupboards.  Ordinarily, most SNAP households run out of benefits before the end of each month (see chart).  And now, that’s happening earlier in the month, because every participating household had its benefits cut beginning November 1 when a temporary benefit boost from 2009 expired.

The cut, which averages $29 a month for a family of three, may not sound like a lot to those who don’t struggle to put food on the table.  But for that family of three, it’s the equivalent of taking away 16 meals a month.

These families simply don’t have the ability to make up that loss.  SNAP participants are poor, as we explained yesterday.  Four in five SNAP recipients have gross incomes below the poverty line (about $23,500 for a family of four), with two in five households below half of the poverty line.  They rely on SNAP’s assistance to purchase nutritious food; benefit levels afford no room for luxuries.

Charities have already reported rising numbers of people seeking food assistance since benefits were reduced.  Further cuts — such as those proposed by the House of Representatives that would drop up to 4 million people from SNAP — would leave many more people without adequate food during this season of thanksgiving.

States Taking the Lead in Making Work Supports More Efficient

July 31, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Some federal lawmakers have been ramping up their attacks on public benefit programs, most recently at a House Ways and Means hearing today on the need to reform the programs to get people “real help.”  Fortunately, at the same hearing, lawmakers heard that a number of states are already doing this — streamlining and better coordinating the programs and services that support low-wage work.

Illinois Health and Human Services Secretary Michele Saddler outlined the state’s transformation of several key programs — like SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid, and child care — to help low-income families keep and maintain jobs.

With the support of Work Support Strategies, a foundation-funded initiative, Illinois is simplifying and aligning policies across programs and investing in new technology to make it easier for families to apply and easier for the state to verify their information.  (CBPP leads the technical assistance for Work Support Strategies.)

The goal is simple yet powerful:  people seeking assistance need only tell their story once to get the supports they need.  As Saddler explains:

When I began, our benefit delivery system was broken. Families had to apply multiple times to get the assistance their family desperately needed. They had to take hours or even days off of work to sit in a local office to get help, potentially losing the very work we encourage. Our focus has been on finding and creating efficiencies in this system, seeking a better environment for customers and staff. A more efficient and accessible system leads to greater stability for families and ultimately saves the government future costs of benefits and administration.

Colorado, Idaho, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and South Carolina also participate in Work Support Strategies.  Together, they are showing that states that differ politically, geographically, and demographically can find common ground in maximizing efficiency and improving access to critical work supports.

That should be no surprise.  After all, every state has faced challenges stemming from the Great Recession, including increased need, budget cuts, and staff reductions, so every state stands to benefit from making its work supports more efficient and its low-income residents more successful.  Let’s hope Congress hears the news.

Three Facts: What SNAP Means for Families and Communities

March 18, 2013 at 3:30 pm

The Washington Post’s in-depth story on how SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps) helps the residents and economy of Woonsocket, Rhode Island highlights many of the same points as our extensive SNAP chart book.  Three facts in particular stand out.

  1. Work rates among SNAP households that can work are high. SNAP has become increasingly effective in supporting work among households that can work, like the example of Rebecka and Jourie Ortiz in the Post story.  Among SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, more than half work while receiving SNAP, and more than 80 percent work in the year before or after receiving SNAP.  Work rates are even higher for families with children:  more than 60 percent work while receiving SNAP, and almost 90 percent work in the year before or after receiving it (see chart).
  2. SNAP enables households to buy nutritious foods. The purchasing patterns of SNAP households mirror those of other low- and moderate-income households.  SNAP recipients spend over 85 percent of benefits on fruits and vegetables, grains, dairy, meat, and meat alternatives.
  3. SNAP provides an economic boost to the community. Retailers in Woonsocket, and in town and cities throughout the nation, rely on the food purchases that households make with their SNAP benefits.  In fact, SNAP provides one of the most effective forms of economic stimulus during an economic downturn.  Economists estimate that in a weak economy, for every dollar that households redeem under SNAP, the gross domestic product grows by about $1.70.  The Congressional Budget Office rated an increase in SNAP benefits as one of the two most cost-effective of all spending and tax options it examined for boosting growth and jobs in a weak economy.

Policymakers should keep these facts in mind when considering the impact of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s proposal to cut SNAP by nearly a fifth over the next decade.

More Evidence That Boosting SNAP Reduces Hunger

December 13, 2012 at 2:00 pm

As policymakers pursuing deficit reduction debate big cuts to federal programs — possibly including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps) — a new study highlights SNAP’s powerful anti-hunger impact.  It’s just the latest evidence showing why we should strengthen SNAP, not weaken it.

Many low-income children receive free or reduced-price meals at school but those meals aren’t available in summer, when school isn’t in session.  The Agriculture Department (USDA) is testing innovative ways to address that unmet need.

As part of one study, households with students who receive free or reduced-price school meals got an EBT (electronic benefits transfer) card containing $60 in SNAP benefits — about the federal cost of providing the missed meals — each month that school was not in session.

Those SNAP benefits cut the share of children who had to skip meals or otherwise eat less because they lacked money (what USDA calls “very low food security”) by nearly one-fifth, from 6.7 percent to 5.5 percent (see graph).

The share of children whose families had trouble affording sufficient food fell by nearly a fifth as well, from 37.6 percent to 31.0 percent.

Children’s nutritional intake also improved modestly.  Children receiving SNAP benefits ate more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

The fact that boosting food assistance helps low-income households get adequate food shouldn’t surprise anyone.  Other research shows that the 2009 Recovery Act’s temporary boost in SNAP benefits enabled more low-income households to afford sufficient food.

Addressing our long-term budget challenges is essential, but it must not come at the expense of critical nutrition assistance.