SNAP is not an easy decision for many Americans

Seth Palmer, NLC North Carolina

In previous years, the U.S. Farm Bill passes without much consequence. The bill has historically been a support and stabilization mechanism for the country’s agricultural sector and therefore, not much attention is paid to the other programs under the control of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These programs include domestic and international marketing services for agriculture products, nutritional testing and certification, rural development grants, and even the U.S. Forest Service.

For adults, children, and families across the United States, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the program colloquially known as food stamps, is anything but supplemental. They rely on the program’s assistance to provide healthy food options that are not normally provided through other programs. But if Congress moves forward with their current proposal, SNAP will take a hit that many families might not be able to recover from with just a click of the fingers.

SNAP and multiple other nutrition-supporting programs spread across the federal government are annually a part of the U.S. Farm Bill as each requires allocations.

Before understanding the impact that changes to SNAP could have if it was changed, it is important that we understand the program’s current impact. Let’s use my home state of North Carolina as an example. In 2016, more than 1.5 million people benefitted from the more than $2.2 billion which was allocated for SNAP benefits from the federal government.[1]But absent the raw impact of those numbers, who are the people who benefit from SNAP? In 2016, 30 percent of recipients had school-aged children.

Like in many other states, hunger is something which effects people in all demographic groups, but most especially children. In North Carolina, one in four children are food insecure. This is one of the highest percentages of any state in the country. SNAP provides more than 660,000 North Carolina children with healthy food options, along with improvements in their heath, educational outcomes, and behavior.

But what does this year’s Farm Bill do to these programs?

In addition to the usual farm subsidies and support for specific product types, it also includes significant changes to the SNAP program. These include an expansion of the state “workfare” programs and requiring program participants between the ages of 18 and 59 work part-time or enroll in 20 hours of workforce training programs to remain eligible.[2]The changes are framed by the bill’s supporters as bringing the workfare requirements in congruence with other parts of the existing law.

While the bill provides more than $1 billion to support workforce training, these new standards would put more than seven million SNAP recipients under these requirements. And to make matters worse, additional limits could be placed on states, reducing the amount of work requirement waivers they could issued during times of high unemployment. A final significant piece of this legislation would levy stricter requirements on low-income families who qualify for SNAP via other programs. These changes to Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility[3]would link SNAP payments to benefit payments such as child support and could minimizing the overall benefit allowable.

Each of these changes on their own could places millions of participants at risk of losing their benefits. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the new work requirements and changes to Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility will lead to more than one million people being dropped from SNAP over the next decade.[4]

And while the impact to the recipients of SNAP will be great, any decrease to the program will have a negative effect on states’ economies. In addition to the support that SNAP funds provide to local food banks and assistance organizations, these funds are directly contributed to the economy. According to a 2010 study by Moody’s Analytics[5], for every state dollar spent by SNAP, roughly $1.73 is contributed to the economy. For fiscal year 2015, that totals more than $4 billion in economic impact just from program participants (based on $2.395 billion in issued funds). With respect to SNAP’s impact on the states’ retail economy, it accounts for more than 10 percent of all spending on food purchased for consumption in the home.In North Carolina alone, that meant that in a single month in 2016, SNAP funded more than $174 million in sales.

What’s next?

While not a component of the Farm Bill, President Trump presented a “new” solution to address these cuts: food boxes. Modeled after the likes of Blue Apron and Hello Fresh, Trump’s “America’s Harvest Box” would include self-stable foods like peanut butter as opposed to organic produce and free-range meats.

As stated by US Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue “USDA America’s Harvest Box is a bold, innovative approach to providing nutritious food to people who need assistance feeding themselves and their families — and all of it is home grown by American farmers and producers. It maintains the same level of food value as SNAP participants currently receive, provides states flexibility in administering the program, and is responsible to the taxpayers.”[6]While the administration’s view of this program is resoundingly positive, other perspectives have not shared that optimism. A similar program already exists within USDA, providing seniors with nutritional access through the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, but on a much lower scale. The program ultimately did not make it into the legislative proposals, but it will remain a point of discussion and analysis going forward.

Though the legislation has passed the House and Senate respectively, the fight is far from over. As the conference committee process moves forward to resolve the differences of the chambers, it remains unclear as to what the final bill may look like. While it is important that a compromise is reached before October 1, this deadline should not lead to the clear and present danger for millions of Americans who rely on programs like SNAP for their basic human needs.

Seth Palmer is a policy wonk with a passion for communicating messages to the audiences of all sizes. An experienced lobbyist and communications professional, he’s now applying those skills to his greatest (and best) challenge yet: fatherhood!