Eric Cantor, the majority leader, and other Republicans in the U.S. House talk about restoring integrity to food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. They insist they want nothing more than to close loopholes and improve work requirements, all of it suggesting that many people are undeserving recipients of food assistance. So they have proposed slashing $40 billion from the program over 10 years.
That’s double the reduction the House considered earlier, and 10 times the savings approved in the Senate. The unfortunate thing is, Cantor and his allies couldn’t be more wrong in their assessment. Cut into food stamps as deeply as they would like, and many children, seniors, disabled and working poor will be dealt a harsh blow.
The program already has a requirement that prevents able-bodied adults without dependents from receiving more than three months of food assistance in any three-year period if they are not working or part of a training program. The legislation that Republican leaders plan for the House floor this week would erase a necessary degree of flexibility. Governors no longer could request a waiver from the three-month cutoff during periods of high employment, something many Republican and Democratic governors have done, and understandably so, in recent years.
Thus, the person who is looking diligently for a job but has not landed one, or cannot get into a training program would be out of luck — no food assistance. Note that the House proposal does not require states to provide job training. The House budget plan actually calls for reduced funding of such programs. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out that the average income of those who would be affected by the change in food stamps is 22 percent of the poverty line.
In other words, the very poor.
To be sure, the food stamp program has expanded of late, due largely to the deep recession and a weak job market. That expansion has kept people fed and out of poverty. More, it has aided the overall economy. The Bowles-Simpson and Rivlin-Domenici bipartisan deficit-reduction commissions recognized as much. They managed to propose a substantial measure of fiscal discipline without taking a dollar from food assistance.