The Food Stamp Program – Unsustainable or Untouchable?

July 14, 2011; Source: The Economist | In April 2011, one in seven Americans was depending on food stamps. The program cost has increased from $35 billion in 2008 to $65 billion this year. Leaders in Washington view this program as either unsustainable or as untouchable. Meanwhile, it’s a lifeline for millions of struggling individuals and families.

House of Representative Republicans have proposed to cut the food stamp budget by a fifth in future budgets. Additionally, they want turn the program over to the states in the form of block grants with each state receiving predetermined fixed amount, irrespective of state needs. They have already voted to cut the Women and Infant Children’s program (WIC) by 11 percent. The Senate is unlikely to approve this.

Advocates argue that these cuts would hurt a program that is working. Eligibility is based on income with the average monthly benefit of $133.  Half of the recipients are children and another 8 percent are elderly. Forty-one percent have income less than the poverty level.

Program proponents also note:

  • Food stamps ensure these individuals who have lost their unemployment benefits won’t go hungry.
  • The rapid growth of the Food Stamp program shows it’s working.  Block grant programs grow much more slowly in hard times and don’t match the demand.
  • Food stamps re-energize local economies. A recent study by Moody’s concluded that food stamps were the most effective stimulus, increasing economic activity $11 for every dollar spent. Most tax cuts yielded a dollar or less.
  • Only two-thirds of Americans eligible for food stamps have signed up.

In this tough economy, many more Americans – especially children and the elderly – are depending on our government to put food on their table. Is this the kind of budget cut that is good for our fellow citizens?—Nancy Knoche