House Republicans Want to Cut $20.5B from Food Stamps

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June 16, 2013; Daily Beast

The NPQ Newswire has covered threats to the food stamp program before, including recent attention to Senator David Vitter’s (R-LA) efforts to restrict access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. This article by Eleanor Clift, concerning the problems facing those 47 million Americans who receive food stamp assistance, brings up questions that coincide with our belief that, based on their statements, some of the more conservative wing players in the Republican Party are ideologically opposed to the expanded availability of food stamps. (Granted, some readers of NPQ have challenged that.)

The program has grown since President Obama’s first term in office, as he expanded benefits for people during the recession. House Republicans want to cut $20.5 billion over 10 years from the program, in stark contrast with the $4 billion cut approved by the Senate last week. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D–MO) anticipates a big fight on the floor as Democrats try to stem the Republicans’ cuts in food stamps. He predicts that “the bill coming out of the House will cause many people to puke because of the damage done to the poorest people.” Cleaver sees the Republicans’ proposal as having a racial component. Given the somewhat disproportionate numbers of people of color receiving food stamp assistance, even though more white people than black people overall receive food stamp assistance, that’s not a hard stance to understand.

Since food stamps have been the subject of so much dubious debate, particularly during the 2012 election, when Newt Gingrich called President Obama the “food stamp president,” some facts on the racial and ethnic composition of food stamp recipients are in order (from Fiscal Year 2011 statistics):

Race/ethnic group

Participating households by racial/ethnic group status (percent of total)

Participating individuals by racial/ethnic group status (percent of total)

U.S. population by race/ethnicity 2010 (percent of total population)

White non-Hispanic




Black non-Hispanic




Hispanic any race




Asian American non-Hispanic




Native American non-Hispanic




Multiple races reported non-Hispanic




Race unknown or not reported




Source on SNAP Beneficiaries’ Demographics:

Source on U.S. population:


The disproportional structural impact on people of color is clear from this table. “What’s been sold over the years is that SNAP is an urban program, and the word ‘urban’ can sometimes be a substitute for black or brown,” Cleaver notes.

However, we also see in this the hand of an increasingly ideological opposition from what Clift describes as the “newly ascendant libertarian wing of the GOP.” She quotes an unnamed House Democratic aide who says that these Republicans “see a program that helps people who aren’t helping themselves, and they want to kick the crap out of it.” That is underscored by the radio ads running from the Heritage Foundation that allege that select Democrats and Republicans are, in Clift’s words, “backing a farm bill that is really a food-stamp bill.” (The Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity has taken a similar tack to oppose the farm bill as a “welfare bill.”) However, Clift notes that, “Sixty percent of working-age people in the program are women, most with children, and if the cuts go through, 210,000 children would lose their free school-lunch benefit.”

It seems to us that the libertarian Republicans in Congress and in the U.S. body politic are less disposed to entitlement programs than their mainstream Republican forebears. Maybe food stamp recipients look like government-dependent “takers” to some in Congress, but to us, they seem to be lower-income households constrained in their choices between turning to nutritional assistance or being unable to feed their families.—Rick Cohen

  • Tom King

    I might have a bit more sympathy with Food Stamp cuts if I hadn’t seen the Food Stamp bureaucracy in action. In the late 90s during the last “welfare reform” upheaval, liberal pundits were freaking out about how the welfare to work provisions were going to put “black and brown” grandmas out on the street and starve little children. A couple of years into it, local nonprofits like the one I worked with were called to a big meeting by the Food Stamp office in East Texas. Two anxious bureaucrats from Houston took the stage to announce a new “marketing program”.

    First they breathlessly told us that thousands were starving they were certain, but Food Stamp applications had gone down significantly in the past two years. As a result the feds had cut their budget by $800,000 for next year. To meet the “threat” they were implementing a quarter million dollar ad campaign targeting East Texas, the theme of which was “Food Stamps is NOT part of welfare reform.”

    Someone (not me) asked what accounted for the drop in applications for Food Stamp. “Two things,” the regional Food Stamp Czar told us. Number 1 was that efforts to reduce fraud with the initiation of the Lone Star Card had “spooked” many applicants. The other factor was the success, particularly in our region of small church-based food bank programs.”

    At this point I stood up and asked a stupid question. “So, are you making the application process easier? Are you reducing restrictions? Dropping some of the safeties designed to prevent fraud?”

    “Well, no,” she answered. “We’re just trying to get more applicants to increase the pool of those who might be eligible and not know it.”

    “So you’re spending a quarter million dollars in order to get more applicants?”

    “Exactly,” she smiled as she saw I understood the point. A lot of people have been going to food banks instead of the Food Stamp office, especially for things like short term financial relief during job hunts and the like. The easy access to food through local food banks has discouraged people who need it from applying for food stamps. We spent 800,000 less than our budget, so they’ve cut it this year.”

    Silly me, I stood up again. “I thought that was the whole point of welfare reform – to reduce the federal budget?”

    She looked shocked. “But you don’t understand. They don’t not spend that money. It just means they send the $800,000 to some other state like Massachusetts.”

    I lumbered to my feet again. “Maybe they need the extra up there,” I offered.

    “But it’s OUR money……” she almost wailed.

    What she did not understand was that most of us in the room had been part of establishing and stocking the network of church and community-based food banks she was complaining about. We were glad we’d help reduce dependence on Food Stamps in our communities.

    I’d worked cheek by jowl with a lot of these people gleaning East Texas fields beside volunteers from evil oil companies, manufacturers and local churches to help stock food bank shelves. A large grocery chain, based in town helped keep the regional food banks stocked with literally tons of food.

    The food banks and efforts to create transportation resources out in the colonias. There were 20-30 colonias in East Texas at the time although technically you couldn’t call them that because they weren’t 150 miles from the border. The churches and small nonprofits were helping get food to folk in the colonias who had no transportation. The moms in the colonias were having to give $70 – $80 worth of food stamp purchases to drivers who gave them a ride in the back of a pickup truck to town so they could spend the remainder of their food stamp money. These were mostly illegal immigrants, stuffed into squalid rural housing clusters without running water or electricity in many cases. The food banks were winding up supplementing food stamps so people would have enough to eat. The predatory drivers were exploiting the illegals, some local growers and manufacturers were exploiting them and the food stamp program was helping support the twisted economy that had grown up around what amounts to the self-enslavement of illegals.

    A lot of us were glad to put a crimp in at least part of the whole nasty system. As to the Food Stamp office’s $800K. We also knew it wasn’t their money. It was actually ours and most of us figured we could do a much better job of it than they had been.

    I’m sure they got their budget back up down at the Food Stamp office. The marketing program probably helped burn up a lot of cash and I’m sure they needed a new computer system and some furniture to cope with the expected flood of new applicants.

    Cutting the federal budget will force states and local communities to pay attention to the impact of poverty where they live. Perhaps they’ll even be inspired to do something about the root causes. It was ironic that the feds in Texas were upset with local efforts to break up the evil economy that had arisen thanks to the availability of Food Stamps as currency. Even after the state did away with paper food stamps, the predatory drivers quickly changed to a barter-based system that stripped the grocery stores of baby formula in short order..

    Instead of knee-jerk attacking efforts to streamline the system and looking for racial bugbears, perhaps it would be more helpful if nonprofits were to offer to work with Republicans to create a more cost effective system for addressing hunger. Corporate/government/community/church coalitions have proved effective at addressing other issues. I worked with a transportation initiative that broke up some really dysfunctional and inefficient transit strategies that were largely cruising along on the federal dime, doing a narrow range of comfortable tasks and leaving huge numbers of people stranded in rural areas. The Republicans were so glad we volunteered to help address the problems that they gave us the legislative tools we needed to redistribute the resources that were available to hit the most difficult problem areas first and to enable local resources to be deployed more effectively to address specific local issues.

    Instead of attacking efforts to clean up the mess, perhaps we could, with the nonprofit sector’s understanding of what works and what doesn’t at the local level, help insure the baby doesn’t get tossed out with the bath. I promise you, they will welcome your genuine efforts to help. At least that was my experience.