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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Some Facts on Food Stamps You’ll Not See Elsewhere

The House Republicans proposed to cut $2 billion a year for ten years from food stamps (a “drastic” 3% cut fro0m the $80 billion program). The Senate passed on a bipartisan basis a much smaller reduction over the same period. House Republicans understood that they could not pass a farm bill that included $2 billion annual cuts in food stamps, so the House tried but failed to pass a farm bill without food stamps, hoping to pass a separate food stamp bill later. Liberal Democrats condemned the House action in unison, claiming falsely House Republicans wanted to wipe out the food stamp program entirely.

The liberal blogosphere condemns any cut in food stamps on the grounds that poor hungry people, especially children, are hurt and that food stamps have become an essential (and apparently permanent) stimulus to keep our economy moving.

Currently, 48 million people receive food stamps, 17 million of which are classified by the USDA as families with very low food security, of which 5 million are children. The USDA’s “very low food security measure” is its feeble attempt to measure the number of hungry Americans.

The accompanying chart (taken directly from the Congressional Budget Office) provides some perspective on where we stand:

The chart shows that, in past years, the number of recipients and spending on food stamps move with the business cycle, as measured by the unemployment rate. However, starting in 2001, food stamp spending and participation rose despite low unemployment due to the use of EBT credit cards and enhanced enrollment efforts. (Thank you, George W. Bush?) Both enrollment and spending soared with the recession of 2008, but did not moderate with the recovery that began in late 2009/early 2010. Both food stamp spending and participation doubled between 2007 and the present!

Those who oppose any cuts in the food stamps program argue that food stamp spending and participation were driven up by the recession and we still need an extra boost. If so, they should accept the fact that food stamps should decline as the recovery continues. The chart shows that the CBO expects food stamp spending to drop by $11 billion over the next decade, and the number of recipients to fall by 13 million people (under current legislation) as a consequence of the economic recovery.

Using CBO projections, Congress should prepare for reductions in the food stamp program. Using the CBO figures, Congress should budget slightly over $1 billion less per year over the next decade even without any changes in food stamp rules. Although opponents of food stamp cuts warn that some 2 million people will lose coverage as a result of the proposed House bill, the CBO projects that a much larger 13 million will lose coverage as the recovery proceeds without any changes in the way food stamps are administered.

Let us remember that food stamps are an entitlement that is supposed to increase during bad economic times and decrease during good economic times. Supposedly, we are in a recovery, or at least that is what we are told.

Those who oppose any reduction in the number of beneficiaries and benefits paid have lost sight of the meaning of entitlements, just as those who argue for permanent stimulus have forgotten the basics of Keynesian economics. Instead of accepting the reductions that are supposed to accompany a recovery, they are making new arguments. One is that food stamps really do not fight hunger. Rather food stamps fight obesity, especially among children. (I do not know how food stamps affect recipients’ choice of food. Please enlighten me). Obesity is a growing problem, so we need more food stamps. Second, they argue that we need food stamps as a disguised form of stimulus, without which the recovery is jeopardized.

I guess obesity and deficient stimulus will always be with us. Therefore let’s have no cuts in food stamps.

In googling material for this piece, I found that the first 40 posts argued against any food stamps cuts of any kind and warned of horrendous consequences of cuts. I ran across a vast array of groups and lobbyists with vested interests in food stamps. I did not find one article supporting the food stamps cuts that must come according to the CBO. The one exception was an attack on Lou Dobbs for venturing to say food stamps need to be cut.

We have no lobby for cutting government spending. Let’s hope the Tea Party gets animated again. This is a good issue for them.

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