SNAP Decision: Starve the Poor
Cuts would impact Texans in need
On May 15, by a vote of 36-10, the U.S. House Agriculture Committee passed its version of the 2013 farm bill: House Resolution 1947, or the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM).
The cumbersome piece of legislation, currently pending in the House, covers everything from crop insurance to nutrition programs, with 80% of the overall budget allotted to domestic food assistance. Revisited every five years, the existing farm bill has been in effect since 2008, after Congress failed to pass a farm bill in 2012, largely due to conflict over cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as SNAP.
While both the Senate and the House bills contain massive cuts to nutrition programs, the Senate's $4 billion in cuts to SNAP is chump change compared to the House's version. Regrettably, that so-called reform bill includes more than $21 billion in cuts to the program. Touted by the House as "the first reforms to SNAP since the welfare reforms of 1996," the bill would slash 3% of the domestic food aid program over the course of 10 years.
Not surprisingly, prospective cuts to SNAP would largely impact Texans in need. In order to qualify for SNAP benefits in Texas, an individual must have no more than $2,000 in the bank and make less than $14,079 annually. The annual income limitations increase by about $5,000 for each additional person living in the household. For instance, in order to qualify for SNAP benefits, the combined income for a family of four could not exceed $28,665.
According to Kathy Green, senior director of advocacy and public policy at the Capital Area Food Bank, 170,000 Texans and 5,300 Travis County residents would immediately lose access to SNAP due to the elimination of "categorical eligibility" – which allows a household already receiving benefits from another specified low-income assistance program, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, to be automatically eligible for SNAP without having to undergo an additional eligibility determination. Instead, under the current revision, a household would have to demonstrate that it meets the specific requirements of each program, creating an additional barrier to participation.
While CAFB actively engages in outreach to enroll those who qualify for SNAP benefits, Green compared the cuts to taking a resource right out of the pockets of those who need it the most, noting that most people receiving benefits are working. Though the food bank services about 300,000 people a year, Green says the demand is much greater, closer to 400,000. The proposed cuts would increase the demand on the food bank's pantry, stretching already-thin resources to the brink.
The proposed cuts to SNAP also threaten the stability of the local food economy. In an effort to increase access to local, healthy food for low-income Austinites, many of the city's farmers markets have started accepting SNAP, including the Sustainable Food Center's farmers' markets, HOPE Farmers Market, and Rosewood Community Market. According to Alexa Senter, market director of the HOPE market, "SNAP acceptance is part of our organization's goal to increase access to and awareness of healthy local food options. Access to healthy food can help low-income residents prevent diet-related chronic illnesses, but it also helps our regional food system by supporting farmers and ranchers ... The impact of these budget cuts could seriously affect low-income urban families as well as our hard-working rural farmers and ranchers – two vulnerable populations that our market and the local food movement aim to connect and support."
Despite the grim outlook, many congressional reps don't think the cuts go deep enough. Texas GOP Rep. Randy Neugebauer of Lubbock offered an amendment targeting an additional $12 billion dollars in SNAP funding. "I think there's more room to target our nutrition funding better," he said in a statement. "There are families who truly need nutrition assistance, and, with these reforms, I'm working to ensure taxpayer dollars are targeted to those families."
But according to Rachel Cooper, senior policy analyst for the Center for Public Policy Priorities, the proposed reduction in SNAP benefits is unconscionable. "In the long run, you hurt families with children, the elderly, and the disabled – the blameless who can't help themselves," says Cooper. "The majority of SNAP recipients in Texas who are able to work are working. Participation has already dropped 4% from its peak as the economy and living wages have improved. We take issue with the attacks on SNAP since we have just experienced the worst recession since the Depression. We need to make sure the program remains intact."