Congressional Republicans have targeted the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps, for budget cuts, and have attempted to paint it as a program rife with fraud and abuse that is on an unsustainable path. While their argument ignores a host of facts, including that food stamp fraud is at an all-time low, it also ignores the economic benefits that the program brings to millions of low-income families.
According to a new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food stamps substantially reduced the poverty rate in 2009, the last year data is available, the New York Times reports:
The food stamp program…reduced the poverty rate by nearly 8 percent in 2009, the most recent year included in the study, a significant impact for a social program whose effects often go unnoticed by policy makers. […]
The study, which examined nine years of data, tried to measure the program’s effects on people whose incomes remained below the poverty threshold. The program lifted the average poor person’s income up about six percent closer to the line over the length of the study, making poverty less severe. When the benefits were included in the income of families with children, the result was that children below the threshold moved about 11 percent closer to the line.
The USDA study aligns closely with a similar one released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which found that food stamps reduced the number of Americans living in extreme poverty in 2011 from 1.46 million to just over 800,000. SNAP’s effects on children are even bigger — the program cut the number living in extreme poverty by half, according to CBPP.
Republicans, however, have made no secret of their wish to gut the program. The House GOP budget would either cut millions of Americans off of food assistance or would substantially reduce the already-modest amount each family receives. The program, Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) continues to argue, is unsustainable. In reality, the growth in SNAP was due almost entirely to the effects of the Great Recession. Its enrollment has dropped as the economy has improved, and it is scheduled to continue shrinking over the next 10 years.