As a state legislator, it has never been more frustrating to watch Washington, DC than it is right now. At a time when record numbers of Americans are struggling with hunger and we desperately need economic stimulus, Washington seems to be pursuing the political equivalent of a crash starvation diet. Nowhere is this more evident than in the treatment food stamps are receiving in Congress.
Common sense tells us this is not the time to cut the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), known to most Americans as food stamps. The proposed cuts are job-killers, and working families have rarely needed this program more than right now.
Let’s look at my home state. The economic downturn that has kept unemployment and underemployment at record highs has deepened hunger in New York. Fortunately, SNAP has responded to meet this need. More than 3 million New Yorkers – nearly one out of seven New York state residents – rely on SNAP to help put food on their table. Participation has remained at this high level since March 2011 – evidence that recovery is coming slowly for many of our neighbors. And three out of four SNAP/Food Stamp households include a child, a senior over age 60, or a disabled person, according to a recent Congressional Budget Office report.
The U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee’s farm bill proposal did include some policy improvements and an increase for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (though it’s smaller than the previous year’s cuts). But the $4.49 billion cut to SNAP and the new limits on states’ “Heat and Eat” policies in areas with high housing and utility costs will do great harm to our most vulnerable residents. In New York State alone, approximately 275,000 households in federally approved public and/or Section 8 housing will see a steep drop in their monthly SNAP benefits. The Congressional Budget Office estimates affected households would lose an average of $90 in monthly benefit amounts.
The cuts proposed by the House were so reckless and extreme they don’t even bear discussion – the close to $36 billion the House would hack away would take food off the table in virtually every food stamp household.
And make no mistake: these proposed cuts are job-killers. Cutting domestic spending may make for a great talking point, but this is the ultimate sign to citizens, local businesses and chambers of commerce, and local governments of how divorced from reality Washington has become. SNAP doesn’t just provide food to low-income families – it stimulates local economies. Every SNAP dollar generates $1.73 in economic activity. Cuts to SNAP will be felt from the supermarket and the corner store to the farm. Lost SNAP funds will directly result in jobs lost at every link in the food chain.
We recognize the challenges facing federal legislators in crafting the 2012 farm bill. What we don’t understand is how cutting SNAP aid when Americans need it most could possibly help. SNAP is a job creator, it’s efficient, and it works. It helps families, children, the disabled, the elderly, and the unemployed. It’s cost effective and it helps businesses in every corner of the country. Cuts to SNAP will lead to more hunger, worse health outcomes, and higher health costs. It will also send more families to already overwhelmed food pantries and soup kitchens.
These cuts aren’t a solution. They’re just Washington creating a new problem.
Sen. Krueger (D-Manhattan) is the ranking Democrat on the New York State Senate Finance Committee. She is a recognized expert on issues of hunger and poverty, and served as the founding executive director of the Food Bank for New York City.