After attempting to impose $40 billion in cuts to the food stamp program in the 2013 farm bill, congressional Republicans reached a compromise with Democrats under which the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) would sustain $8.6 billion in spending cuts over a 10-year period. Two years later, with both chambers of Congress now under Republican control, the party is signaling that its crusade against SNAP benefits is far from over.
As the Wall Street Journal reports today, the GOP leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees, which oversee the program, are placing SNAP benefits under increased scrutiny in what they pitch as an effort to improve the program. What that means in practice, of course, is dramatically scaling it back.
With the House Agriculture Committee set to hold its first hearing on SNAP later this month, committee chairman Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican, is peddling the standard conservative tropes about hard work and self-sufficiency. “A family that depends on their own work is more secure,” he told the Journal. “There’s a dignity in taking care of yourself.”
As it happens, many SNAP recipients are working. Dave Johnson points out that while many food stamp beneficiaries are children, elderly, or disabled -- 76 percent of SNAP households include people in these categories -- 41 percent live in households with earnings. Many recipients are also temporarily unemployed, which explains the uptick in benefits following the Great Recession. With the recovery underway, the Congressional Budget Office forecasts a 30 percent decline in the number of beneficiaries by 2025; as the Journal notes, one million people already left the program between 2013 and 2014.
But while Conaway isn't outlining detailed proposals just yet, many conservatives are agitating for tighter eligibility requirements, despite remarkably low rates of fraud in the program. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told the Journal that he'll be keeping a "close eye" on the program. “Finding out what’s broken is the first step, then we’ll get to work on improving the program,” he added.
It's unclear what specific changes Roberts has in mind for a program that currently provides about $1.43 per meal, but they're virtually certain to be "improvements" only in the Orwellian sense.