Paul Ryan’s ‘Compassionate’ Budget Would Gut The Food Safety Net

The House today will vote on House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) 2012 budget, his radical plan to dismantle Medicare and Medicaid while providing a healthy tax cut for the rich and corporations. Ryan’s budget has received a fair amount of criticism — and is making some House Republicans queasy — so Ryan took to the Washington Post today to defend himself:

Our budget offers a compassionate and optimistic contrast to a future of health-care rationing and unbearably high taxes. We lift the crushing burden of debt, repair the safety net, make America’s tax system fair and competitive, and ensure that our health and retirement programs have a strong and lasting future.

This so-called “compassionate” plan would double health-care costs for seniors, endanger vital Medicaid services, and likely increase taxes on the middle-class to finance tax cuts for the rich. But it would also undermine another important part of the social safety net: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps):

Converting SNAP to a block grant, as Chairman Ryan proposes to do beginning in 2015, would hurt the tens of millions of Americans who rely on the program. SNAP would largely lose the ability to respond to rising need, forcing states during economic downturns to cut benefits or create waiting lists for needy families.

Turning SNAP into a block grant to states would severely restrict the program during an economic downturn when it is most necessary. There was little increase in household hunger between 2008 and 2009 — despite the economy’s weakness — because of SNAP and the food safety net. Currently, three-quarters of SNAP benefits go to households with children and nearly one-third go to households with a senior citizen or person with a disability.

As the economy improves, SNAP spending will decrease back to its normal levels. And the SNAP program in its current form is hardly generous. The benefits breaks down to about $4.50 per person per day. Currently, one in seven residents of Ryan’s own district did not have enough money to provide adequate food at some point in 2010.

SNAP is an effective anti-poverty program that is most important when the economy takes a turn for the worse. The budget that the House will vote on today would kick the legs out from underneath the program, with no clear benefits.