To Get Medicaid and Education Aid to States, An Unprecedented Cut to Food Stamps

By
Tuesday, August 03, 2010 at 6:00 am

After spending the afternoon applying for food stamps, Lizvette Perez buys milk and butter. (St. Petersburg Times/ZUMA Press)

This week, the Senate is preparing to rob Peter to pay Paul. They will take from one program helping the neediest of Americans in order to give to another. The lucky recipient is a whittled-down state-aid bill with $16 billion to help sustain Medicaid and $10 billion to keep teachers on the job. That is less money than the states were originally promised, but not nothing: This bill, a compromise of a compromise, could save an estimated 138,800 jobs and ease states’ budget woes by $26.1 billion.

[Economy1] But to gain the votes of the Republicans necessary for passage, the bill includes “pay fors” to make it deficit-neutral. There is language to close a foreign tax credit loophole, raising $9 billion. Billions more come from tinkering with Medicaid drug prices and rescinding unspent funds from a variety of programs. But controversially, the bill will also likely slash $6.7 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the benefits formerly known as food stamps. This might result in a cut in benefit checks from one month to the next — an unprecedented event in the history of the benefit.

American food stamps are not generous, averaging only $4.50 a day even after being bumped up in the recession-era stimulus — less than you’d need to buy two meals at McDonald’s. And since the start of the recession, the number of families depending on them has skyrocketed. The economic crisis has pushed 12.9 million people into SNAP; as of April, more than 40 million collect the bare-bones benefits. More than 6 million Americans report no income whatsoever except for SNAP — because they are not eligible for unemployment insurance, Social Security, disability or other programs.

Sensitive to the risky politics of cutting benefits for the neediest Americans, aides have been on a behind-the-scenes push to convince think tanks, unions and reporters of both the necessity and humanity of the cuts. In their telling, it is not a cut at all. It is merely a “technical fix” for years in the future.

This line of reasoning begins with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA, the $787 billion stimulus bill passed in Feb. 2009. ARRA provided a temporary boost to SNAP payments by increasing benefits until food prices reached a certain target. The authors of the bill believed that the price of food would catch up to the benefit increase in 2014, and the program would be back on its normal track. But lower-than-expected inflation led to lower-than-expected food prices. The government would still be spending on additional benefits until 2015 or even 2018, according to the most recent projections by the Congressional Budget Office.

Thus, SNAP became an opportunity of sorts, a cut that Democrats could stomach and Republicans might support. It offered fresh funds that could be used for something else. As that belief took hold, some decided that it would be better to use the funds on a worthy priority, like the state-aid bill, rather than as an offset for a tax cut or some other project.

Still, the suggestion caused outrage on the Hill. The House Appropriations Committee originated the education-jobs provision in a war supplemental bill, and in an interview with the Fiscal Times, its chair, Rep. Dave Obey (D-Wis.), first revealed that the White House had suggested cutting SNAP early in the summer.

“We were told we have to offset every damn dime of [new teacher spending]. Well, it ain’t easy to find offsets, and with all due respect to the administration their first suggestion for offsets was to cut food stamps. Now they were careful not to make an official budget request, because they didn’t want to take the political heat for it, but that was the first trial balloon they sent down here,” he said.

“Their line of argument was, well, the cost of food relative to what we thought it would be has come down, so people on food stamps are getting a pretty good deal in comparison to what we thought they were going to get. Well isn’t that nice. Some poor bastard is going to get a break for a change.”

Now they’re likely to get less of one. The ARRA increase to SNAP benefits boosted benefits from meager to less-meager, advocates say. “We have been very supportive of the ARRA boost,” says Ellen Vollinger of the Food Research and Action Center. “But it underscored that these benefits are not generous. Anecdotally, we heard that the ARRA boost let some SNAP recipients keep going to the supermarket in the third or fourth week of the month, rather than going to a soup kitchen starting after the second week. They were stretching out their benefits, and purchasing some more nutritious food, like fresh fruit and vegetables.” Vollinger notes that even with the ARRA funding the average SNAP benefit is not really enough to eat.

And FRAC argues that that the situation where the government might actually cut benefits — where in Feb. 2014, a recipient might receive a $400 benefit on their EBT card, and in March, 2014, $350 — would be “devastating” for recipients. “In the 1990s, there were terrible cuts to the program,” Vollinger explains. “But nobody ever started receiving less money [because the benefits increased more slowly than the price of food increased]. That situation — what will happen if people aren’t well-informed about the cut? What if they don’t recognize that the benefit will be lower?” It has never happened in the history of the program, Vollinger notes.

On Monday, the Senate was due to take a cloture vote on the bill. But the Congressional Budget Office found the offsets insufficient by $4.9 billion, since the bill would likely not take effect until mid-September at the earliest, since it also needs a House vote. (It is possible that the House would return for an emergency vote on the bill, to get the necessary Medicaid and teacher funding to states as soon as possible.) Republicans had refused to vote for a bill increasing the deficit, and pulled their support. That has pushed the cloture vote to Wednesday. Even then, after all the Democrats’ compromises, Republicans might not vote for the bill.

Follow Annie Lowrey on Twitter


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Cswinney2
Comment posted August 3, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

NOW WE SUFFER LITTLE CHILDREN

2002-2006 top 1% took two thirds of income growth.
bottom 90% got 12%. Praise Allah. Mosque em.

2008
1% owned 43% Total Financial Wealth
10% owned 70%
20% owned 93%
80% owned 7%=120.,000,.000 workers=shafted

Reagan + Bush II loved to enrich the rich
WSA knows best. Turn em loose. Let em form a Casino
It is easier to make billions.

How many years before MIDDLE CLASS recovers?
Revolution cometh?
olduglymeanhonest

WSA owns what was once known as United States of America.
Some say United Stench of America.


devonnoll
Comment posted August 3, 2010 @ 2:30 pm

Let's see: the GOP could bailout Banks to make sure that their CEOs got billions in bonuses, but they will not bailout the unemployed, the homeless, and now the hungry? What is wrong with this picture? What is it going to take for the people in this country to understand that they are out of options? Do we all need to be on the streets begging for shelter and food to finally get through to every single citizen over the age of reason that the top 1% are like the aristocrats of France in the early 1800's and their attitude towards the rest of us is “Let them eat cake!” In France at the time of their Revolution – cake was a dry bread that could hardly be swallowed and was eaten by the only the most destitute of all citizens because it was made only with flour, water, and salt! Is that what we will be reduced to before someone finally stands up and leads a revolution against these GOP pigs and their corporate owners?

I weep for my country today. I weep for its citizens who will do nothing to stop being led to the slaughter by a government so corrupted and so cruel. What happened to a nation where we took care of our neighbors and helped the least of our numbers? What happened to our consciences as we saw someone in need? I know the answer to these questions – and for those sanctimonious “Christians” who call this a Christian Nation, it is that we abandoned our souls to the pursuit of gold believing that he who controls the gold, makes the rules! We have forgotten it is “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you!” and it is called the Golden Rule. Jesus of Nazareth taught it differently – he said what you do to the least of these, you do to Me. So all you upright GOP Christians, consider this: when you starve and deprive the least of this nation, you are starving and depriving your Savior. The teachings of the Family on C Street are lies and not based on the teachings of Jesus – and perhaps you should stop following your perversions and started repenting. Start helping those who elected you, and tell your corporate paymasters that it is time to hit the road! America needs help and it needs it now – not deficit reduction by legislation, but deficit reduction by people working and paying taxes to pay down the deficit. Put food in our bellies and jobs for us to do – not war spending and corporate bailouts!

And America, until you stop worrying more about what you have, and start worrying about the neighbor who is starving, you are heading down the road to civil war and it will cost us all very dearly! Vote out the Blue Dog Democrats, the GOP, and the faux Progressives. Put in people who understand ecological economics, social justice, and service – people like Rep. Grayson of Florida and Rep. Weiner of New York. Send people like Bart Stupak and Michelle Bachmann, John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi, Charles Grassley and Max Baucus, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell packing! We need heroes and brave men and women who will care for Americans, not corporations, and who will stand up to the likes of Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity and Sarah Palin and call them what they are – Traitors preaching sedition and false religion! Vote in candidates that will stand up to the powerful and demand better of us at the local level – and then deliver! If we do not, the tears that will be shed will not be for a country, it will be for us as we bury our dead – those children who died of starvation in one of the riches nations in the world!


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cheryl greco
Comment posted August 3, 2010 @ 7:03 pm

It is a disgrace that Washington has come to this. All the democrats do is try to make concessions to the GOP ( the party of NO if a democrat is in office or the President would have his name on it) to try to get anything at all passed.
Then the GOP says NO even after thier amendments, even if they co-sponsored the bill before Obama. This is politrix at it's worst. Who cares about the people??? NOT the GOP, that much we know.

After charging not one, but two wars, what did chaney/bush do? Lower taxes for the wealthy ( and other citizens ) in an attempt to fool us into thinking that wars do not cost us dearly. The 2nd war was preemptive war and very UNAmerican. The forefathers would run from the modern new right GOP or at least shed a few tears at the flabbergasting deception, delay, propaganda, manipulation,destruction and the totally partisan way they push thier agenda.
They spent the money in the surplus left to gw bush, charged 2 wars (we are supposed to pay as we go on wars according to the forefathers), LOST 95% of the tax payer and Iraqi oil money intended to rebuild Iraq (bush/chaney made us enough enemies without losing/stealing 95 billion belonging to the Iraqis (not us),and added 687 billion to the deficit with the “tax cuts” given out in wartime. They ignored the borders, had no exit strategy for the wars, and left us with a huge deficit by borrowing money to make up for the gifts to the wealthiest.They sent us to this financial mess, supported the Big banks, Big Oil, Big corporations and monopolies. They had thier Ha!Ha! moment by saying NOW we want to stop the spending….on ANYTHING because we put you in too much debt! Nay!Nay! This is outrageous!

The piece of the nations wealth belonging to 95% of us has shrunk to such an unthinkably small slice while the extremely wealthy portion skyrocketed.
This is NOT the capitalism we imagine. The wealthy have made huge gains while the poor/middle class suffer and lose more!!! The bush years were criminal and if we will not stand up to make the GOP accountable we are sending future generations straight to financial hell. They have tryed to kill the common man's American dream whilst boasting the opposite! They need to be “shock and awed” in the mid-terms. See how THEY like it.

“God must Love the common man, He made so many of them”!
HONEST Abe Lincoln

“It is incumbent on every generation to pay it's own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half of the wars of the world.”
Thomas Jefferson

I wonder why the GOP thinks ONLY democrats should do so and not republicans? Why throw the tax dollars away while arguing against health care reform? Making health care more equitable and affordable is what the Constitution means with duty of the government to do what the private sector cannot accomplish for the common welfare of the people (all Americans)!!!
Now, the GOP is busy tring to change the 14th ammendment, while they have the democrats scrambling to PLEASE the GOP instead of the people….that's what is happening here, with the same old result, take food from the poor to please the GOP, so they can continue to blame Obama (mid-term strategy) while taking no responsibility for bringing us to this point! We are so sick of the poor taking the fall for the rich that haven't even paid thier fair share in taxes.
A vote for GOP in fall is a vote for the big money you'll have less and less of- forget the children? They will have NO shot at the dissapearing “American Dream”. Nightmare more like it.


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DHFabian
Comment posted August 4, 2010 @ 1:16 am

“Sensitive to the risky politics of cutting benefits for the neediest Americans…”

Are you serious? Consider what became of (welfare) general assistance, provided to single adults who were unable to provide for themselves, often due to physical/mental disability. When AFDC, which provided very meager aid to needy women and children, was eliminated, America yawned with indifference. As a result of “welfare reform,” the infant mortality rate among our poor has risen above that of most Third World countries while the life expectancy of our poor has been plunging, and we don't care. Government cut disability aid (both SSI and SSDI) more than once, and our powerful legislators are working toward ending Social Security altogether. We abandon the neediest to the streets, where they are beaten and murdered, and we don't care.

In America today, people can and do die from poverty. Are Americans taking to the streets in protest? Are newspapers filled with editorials about the horrendous treatment of our poor? Does the media bother to even mention them at all (answer: No, the US refuses to recognizer anyone worse off than “working poor.”)?

Sensitive? How about flat-out apathetic?


DHFabian
Comment posted August 4, 2010 @ 1:25 am

Give credit where credit is due. Wasn't it a Democrat, President Clinton, who “reformed” welfare, transferring those dollars into “more important” things like corporate tax relief?


DHFabian
Comment posted August 4, 2010 @ 1:31 am

The reaction of the people has already been tested. When govt ended general assistance (welfare) for those who were unable to provide for themselves, who cared? When govt ended aid for mothers and children in deep poverty, America yawned. In a very real sense, the horrendous mistreatment of the poor of New Orleans, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, defines America's treatment of all its poor. As it was during the Nazi regime, we have decided that the unemployable don't deserve to live.

On a second point, I really doubt that anyone who took a strong stand for the poor/working class would even have a chance to launch his/her campaign.


DHFabian
Comment posted August 4, 2010 @ 1:37 am

I don't think the middle class will be restored. Once you fall out of the middle class, you become poor, and (for complicated reasons) there is very little chance that you'll be able to pull yourself back out of poverty. Now that we got rid of the social safety net, losing your job can mean losing everything. It can be almost impossible to secure a job when your address is “under the Main Street bridge”. Without those “wasteful” social programs, the number of permanently poor has continued to rise, and America has no use for the poor. We need to get used to it.


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Comment posted August 5, 2010 @ 7:26 am

It can be almost impossible to secure a job when your address is “under the Main Street bridge”. Without those “wasteful” social programs, the number of permanently poor has continued to rise, and America has no use for the poor. We need to get used to it.


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Faitho4hope
Comment posted August 7, 2010 @ 7:01 am

Strange how Congress can never find a way to cut their own pay to help offset costs. They can always find a way to hurt the people. My family used to get $250/month in foodstamps [unemployed, no unemployment check, and wife on SSDI], 3 months ago, the foodstamps were cut to 160/month. They say we make too much. Unemployed = no income. SSDI [Social Security Disability Insurance] = $1000/month, which pays rent, utilities, medicines [wife is on 30 prescriptions].
Yeah, cutting the foodstamps instead of cutting Congressional salary makes sense.


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DHFabian
Comment posted August 8, 2010 @ 4:47 am

A funny thing about food stamps: A few years back back, disabled Social Security recipients were put on food stamps in place of an annual COLA. There were then periodic increases only to be followed by decreases. A desperately-needed adjustment was finally made this year, by the Obama administration — shortly after which new significant cuts were announced.
Why do they even bother?


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Pam Miner
Comment posted October 8, 2010 @ 11:25 pm

It's always been the rich who stomp on the faces of the poor. People who talk of entitlements as if it were a bad thing should think how they would like to not have enough to eat, or their own bed, or no health care. People, by being people are entitled to food shelter and basic health care.
I've lived below poverty level for many years and if they keep taking “benefits” away there will be a huge increase in homelessness, hunger and despair. When a person is older after living productive lives, are they not “entitled” to a place to live, enough to eat and be treated for illness? What about the innocent children of poverty?


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