Budget Cuts Could Leave 22 Million Children Without Food Stamps

children nutritionSome 22 million children who depend on the federal nutrition assistance program that replaced food stamps could lose their benefits under a 2013 budget resolution recently approved by the House Agricultural Committee. The budget, approved in April, would cut more than $33 billion over the next 10 years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Approximately one third of the proposed cuts are directed at “categorical eligibility” restrictions that could leave as many as two million people per year ineligible for SNAP benefits. The proposed bill would also eliminate more than 250,000 children from automatic enrollment in the Free School Lunch and Breakfast Program. Their benefits could vanish as early as this year if the budget is passed.

According to Center for American Progress data, the proposed budget could end up affecting as many as 46 million Americans. Families of four currently enrolled in the SNAP program could lose about 11 percent of their total monthly benefits.

Massive cuts to the program could have a major economic impact, the organization warns, noting even a $1 billion decrease in SNAP funding could trigger almost 14,000 job losses.

The Center for American Progress Action Fund, alongside the Leadership Conference and the Coalition on Human Needs, launched a program entitled Half in Ten in 2008, which is described as “the campaign to cut poverty in half in ten years” on the project’s website.

In a recent Center for American Progress article she coauthored with Seth Hanlon, Half in Ten project director Melissa Boteach criticized the proposed SNAP cuts, claiming the FY 2013 budget proposal would affect the “most vulnerable in our society and the working poor.”

“The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides the biggest ‘bang for the buck’ in terms of job creation, creating $1.73 in economic activity for every dollar spent on the program,” Boteach said. “In contrast, tax cuts for the wealthy are one of the weakest options for job growth because those households tend to save the extra cash from a tax cut rather than spending it in the economy.”

According to FY 2008 federal data, nearly 60 percent of SNAP recipients had incomes at or below the poverty line, with the average household receiving $272 in monthly program benefits. During the same period, children made up almost half of the population receiving funding.

Photo via Flickr  USDAgov

Food is Fundamental, Only Don’t Ask Newt Gingrich

On January 21 Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina Primary. But he did it, in part, by using racist rhetoric, characterizing President Obama as “the best food stamp president in American history.” Since then, he has continued to drive this distortion hoping it will somehow resonate with voters. It’s not likely to work, because most Americans understand that food is fundamental. Presidents do not put people onto the food stamp rolls. People, predominately people with children to feed, become eligible for food stamps.

The food stamp program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, is a critical safety net for families living in poverty. SNAP eligibility rules require that participants be at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level.

Recent studies show that 49 percent of all SNAP participants are children (age 18 or younger), with almost two-thirds of SNAP children living in single-parent households. In total, 76 percent of SNAP benefits go towards households with children, 16 percent go to households with disabled persons, and 9 percent go to households with senior citizens.

Newt Gingrich’s attempt to paint Obama as the president who oversaw the largest increase of SNAP participation is inaccurate. It was President Bush, not President Obama who has that distinction.  This stands to reason, as it was during President Bush’s administration that our country’s economy plummeted.  Newt Gingrich’ race-baiting tactic is repugnant, of course, and he is just flat-out wrong.  As Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) so eloquently voiced on the floor of The U.S. House recently, “Hunger is color-blind. Of recipients whose race we know, 22 percent of SNAP recipients are African-American. And 34 percent are white. Hunger knows no race, or religion, or age or political party.”

Hunger in America is real.  Programs such as SNAP, WIC, free- and reduced- school lunches, and summer feeding programs exists because there is a need.  These are not fraud-ridden systems somehow sucking the life out of our budgets as some politicians would like you to believe.  According to a recent USDA analysis, SNAP reached a payment accuracy of 96.19 percent in 2012 (the highest ever achieved by the program).  Trafficking rates — the number of benefits exchanged for cash — are at 1 percent, according to 2008 statistics, the most recent available. There is always room for improvement, but the integrity of the SNAP program is solid.

As evidenced by no subsequent primary wins, America is not buying Newt Gingrich’s assault on children, families, disabled, or our senior citizens.

In a recent NPR interview, correspondent David Welna spoke to Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions from Alabama, and Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu from Louisiana. Per capita, Sessions’ Alabama is one of the top food stamp recipients in the nation; so is Louisiana.  Sen. Sessions said, “I think it’s a policy of the administration, just get money out of the door to try to stimulate the economy, and not look closely at who’s getting it and why they’re getting it.”  Sen. Mary Landrieu said, “It is blaming the victim, and it’s making a mockery of some of the most important, I think, social safety net programs in the country.”  Welna asked about government freeloaders?  Sen. Landrieu responded by suggesting Congress should “take away the special tax loopholes for the rich.”

Candidate Gingrich would never advocate for that. Take away tax loopholes for the wealthy? Blasphemous indeed. Hungry children, being hungry, families living from paycheck to paycheck, having a language barrier that limits your ability to navigate our system, being part of the working poor, struggling to find a job, or experiencing financial fear, all these are beyond the realm of reality for Newt Gingrich.

No, he can more easily identify with his patrons such as Sheldon Adelson, a casino mogul who donated 5 million dollars to Gingrich through a super PAC. Then his wife Miriam, quickly followed with a 6 million dollar donation. This was just before the South Carolina primary and we know who won the South Carolina primary.

Kansas Cuts Out Food Stamps for Many Children of Illegal Immigrants

A new formula for calculating who receives food stamps in Kansas has left many U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants without aid. The change affects the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP), a federal program administered individually by the states.

By law, illegal immigrants are not eligible for food stamps but their U.S.-born children are, according to The Kansas City Star. Previously, Kansas excluded illegal immigrants as members of the household in the formula but adjusted the family’s income proportionately. The new rule doesn’t adjust the income, so a family’s earnings are spread over fewer people in the calculation. This has lead many families to lose their food stamp eligibility.

Only three other states calculate eligibility in this way: Arizona, Utah and Nebraska.

“This is not a time, with this economy, when we should be withdrawing help from struggling families with children,” Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, told The Star. “We have a demonstrated problem of food insecurity in this country and, in Kansas, this policy takes you further away from being able to solve the problem. It exacerbates the problem.”

Benefits for more than 1,000 families were eliminated after the change in policy took effect Oct. 1, 2011, but the state agency in charge of running SNAP, the Department of  Social and Rehabilitation Services, doesn’t know how many families with U.S.-citizen children were affected.

“These food stamps were making a difference for families to be able to provide nutritional food for their children, or food at all,” Elena Morales of El Centro, an anti-poverty agency in Kansas City, Kan., told The Star. “This policy not only hurts these families, it hurts us, too, especially because we’re talking about U.S. citizen children.”

As Economy Sags More Students Receiving Free School Lunches

As families continue to struggle during the economic crisis, record numbers of students are receiving free or low-cost school lunches. Department of Education officials reported that 52 percent of fourth graders are now enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program, up from 49 percent in 2009.

Last school year, 21 million students received subsidized school lunches, up 17 percent from 18 million in 2006-2007, The New York Times reports. In that same period 11 states saw increases of 25 percent or more as layoffs severely cut into family incomes. The Agricultural Department reports that all 50 states have seen increases in enrollment.

Students qualify for free lunches if their families have incomes up to 130 percent of the federal poverty level, or $29,055 for a family of four. In a four-member household with income up to $41,348, children qualify for a subsidized lunch priced at 40 cents.

In Rockdale County, Georgia, east of Atlanta, 63 percent of students receive subsidized lunches up from 46 percent in 2006. Officials there blame the economy for the increase.

“We’re seeing people who were never eligible before, never had a need,” Peggy Lawrence, director of school nutrition for Rockdale County Schools, told The Times.

Benjamin Senauer, a University of Minnesota economist who studies the meals program, told The Times, “These are very large increases and a direct reflection of the hardships American families are facing.”

Not all growth in enrollment in the lunch program can be attributed to the economy, however. According to The Times, a new way of qualifying students for the subsidized lunch program, known as direct certification, has also increased enrollment. In 2004, Congress required that all U.S. school districts automatically enroll any child whose family also receives food stamps. In the 2010-2011 school year, 14 million school-age children were in families eligible for food stamps, 2 million more than the 2009-2010 school year.

Photo by Flickr | DOliphant