Barbaric Budget Cuts: Republicans on Hill Aim at Food Stamps

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September 18, 2013; The Hill


Former Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX) aide Brent Budowsky describes the Republican strategy to enact massive cuts in food stamps as the embodiment of “cruel and barbaric attacks against the poor.” It’s not clear who the role model is for Republicans looking to eviscerate food stamps, but Budowsky suggests that they consider emulating Pope Francis. Budowsky writes,

“Francis brings a powerful passion for the poor to the center of his papacy. He rejects the worldly trappings of office. He brings his message of humbleness for the ‘haves’ and hope for the ‘have-nots’ to the far corners of the world…Francis in his passion for the poor strongly criticizes ‘the cult of money,’ condemns income disparity, compares low wage labor to a form of slavery and calls for greater compassion and support for the needy.”

It is a nice thought, but it is hard to find Republicans who criticize the cult of money, condemn income inequality, and attack low wages. Witness this week’s coverage here at NPQ about the Walmart living wage controversy and the victory of home healthcare aides getting minimum wage and overtime protections.

Perhaps Budowsky was trying not to harm the reputations of Republicans currently in office, but he didn’t mention any contemporary GOP embodiments of Pope Francis’s world-view. However, he did cite a former congressman and HUD secretary, the late Jack Kemp, who “championed conservative plans to help the poor.”

It doesn’t look like House Republicans have gotten the memo. Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act largely on a party line vote. The bill will cut $39 billion out of food stamps (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) between 2014 and 2023. In its first year alone, as many as 3.8 million people could lose their food-stamp eligibility.

The White House has said it will veto the Republican bill if it makes it to President Obama’s desk, though relatively understated in the press coverage is the fact that a comparable bill in the Democratic Party–controlled U.S. Senate cuts food stamps by $4 billion.

Do both parties think that reducing—either by $4 billion or $39 billion—the appropriation for food stamps means that demand for food stamps will decline, or that households without adequate food will somehow be motivated to deal with their hunger in other ways than using their food stamp purchase card? Don’t they realize that the upsurge in the number of people turning to food stamps reflects unemployment, underemployment, and low-wage working poor employment—the demand, or need, for food assistance—as opposed to some sort of supply-side analysis where more food stamps means more people discovering that they might be hungry?—Rick Cohen

  • Michael Wyland

    It should be noted that the “barbaric” cuts Mr. Budowsky referes to in his opinion piece for “The Hill” represent about a 5% reduction in the current $78 billion spent on SNAP and related programs. A record number of Americans receive nutrition support from the Federal government, if a 5% reduction in expenditures results in 3.8 million people losing eligibility, that would calculate to 76 million Americans, or about one in four, receiving SNAP benefits currently. However, according to USDA, the current number of recipients is closer to 47.7 million (see

    It may or may not be right or necessary to reduce funding for Federal food assistance, but the facts and statistics underlying the issue make the use of terms like “cruel” and “barbaric” sound like hyperbole. Even if the cuts are sustained, the US will spend over $70 billion a year on SNAP and close to $800 billion over the ten year period cited in the article (assuming inflationary increases only – no change in participants served or program features). One can certainly argue that the reduced amount may not be enough, but it’s far from nothing and equal to about $1,467 per participant per year in FY 2013 (minus administrative costs).

  • Rick Cohen

    Well analyzed, Michael, but there are challenges in your analysis, mine, and Budowsky’s. The larger challenge is that increased demand for and expenditures of SNAP or any other program may be reflections of problems outside the program’s direct scope but hard to avoid. Budowsky’s concern about the barbarism of the cuts (I made sure to show that the Democrats were cutting as well) may reflect a larger concern about the economy and how Food Stamp use has gone up (albeit with post-stimulus provisions making it somewhat easier) in accord with the increasing problems of the economy, including the replacement of higher wage jobs with low-wage, SNAP-eligible incomes. In today’s (Saturday’s) Washington Post, there is a very interesting article about how disability assistance has grown substantially in response to the problems of unemployment and underemployment. Employers eliminating jobs have eliminated those for employers whose minor or moderate disabilities would have typically been accommodated on the job. So now those workers, having lost their minor-accommodation jobs and unable to find new ones dealing with their disabilities, are filing for disability assistance. It’s not that the population of people with disabilities has grown, but the people who worked with and through their minor or moderate disabilities now can’t find work and have turned to disability assistance when they otherwise wouldn’t have. You’re right about hyperbolic language, though the House Republicans, unable to garner a single Democratic vote, seem to have done a decent job on their own on that score, but what I wish we could do at NPQ is provide the deeper, nuanced discussion that looks at programs like SNAP through the lens of the program itself and through the lens of what else is happening societally to the program.

  • Donna

    You explained the increase in SSI so much better than I every could. If I hear someone say “they should go to college” one more time I think I might scream. This country has created a new class of disability… “Excess Americans.” I hope it works out.