DEBATE over a federal food stamp bill continues to prove just how difficult it is to cut any spending in Washington.
For the first time in decades, U.S. House members have split food stamp legislation from the federal farm bill, addressing the two issues in separate legislation. The House on Thursday approved a plan by Republican leaders that would cut spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by about $40 billion over the next decade.
This sounds impressive until you recall that spending on SNAP, as the food stamp program is known today, has doubled in recent years. In 2008, food stamp spending totaled around $40 billion. In the most recent fiscal year, it totaled roughly $80 billion. Without reform, the food stamp program would expend $764.4 billion over the next 10 years.
The House GOP bill would pare that to $724 billion, which averages $72.4 billion per year. In short, the Republican bill would leave food stamp spending as much as 81 percent higher than it was as recently as 2008. Yet liberals will still decry this as a draconian cut virtually condemning people to starve in the streets.
Under the Republican bill, states will no longer be allowed to waive limited work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents. Stacy Dean, an official with the left-leaning Center of Budget and Policy Priorities, responded by telling The Wall Street Journal, “It's extraordinary to say to a jobless, unemployed individual, ‘You're not working, so I'm going to take away your food assistance.'”
When the Oklahoma Legislature approved modest work requirements for food stamp recipients this year, that measure also drew scorn from the political left.
But if you can't require a healthy adult with no children to at least look for a job in exchange for food stamps, it's hard to argue the program is a true safety net rather than a hammock.
If spending cuts prove politically untenable (which shouldn't be the case if reason ruled), why not ensure food stamps supply recipients with healthy foods? U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., has filed legislation to prevent food stamps from being used to buy junk food. Yet we doubt this simple, common-sense measure will become law. Research conducted by Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2012 found that between $1.7 billion and $2.1 billion in food stamp purchases were for soda.
Roe's “Healthy Food Choices Act” would change the food guidelines for SNAP so they largely duplicate the guidelines of the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which has far more restrictions on the types of food that can be purchased with taxpayer dollars. In a statement, Roe, a doctor, said, “If these guidelines are good and healthy enough for women and children, then SNAP recipients should also benefit from adhering to the same standards.”
In 2009, the federal stimulus bumped food stamp benefits. The increase is now ending, proving that some reductions are possible. Still, 628,956 Oklahomans were on food stamps in August, a record number in a state with a relatively healthy economy.
The Obama administration often touts alleged national economic gains. Yet that message is undermined when liberals insist food stamp dependence should in no way decline or be reined in during what they claim is an economic recovery — especially when food stamps may actually be contributing to obesity harming the people the program is supposed to help.