JANESVILLE, Wisconsin — Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) defended his budget’s major cuts to food stamps outside a town hall on Friday, telling ThinkProgress that “we think you have to get savings in some of these areas where you’ve had a huge increase in spending.”
Food stamps were a hot topic at his town hall meetings that ThinkProgress attended last week. At nearly every stop, Ryan noted that one in six Americans currently live in poverty.
With the number of people in need increasing, the sensible takeaway is that we as a society need to ensure enough funding so those in poverty are getting enough to eat. But Ryan has a far different take. The rise in poverty levels, due in large part to the financial collapse and Great Recession, has instead led him to believe that programs designed to help those in need like food stamps are no longer working.
It is with this mindset that Ryan justified cutting food stamps by $134 billion in his proposed budget. The House Budget Chairman downplayed the significance of his budget’s cuts in an interview with ThinkProgress, dismissing his proposed 10 percentage point drop in funding as a necessary “fix.”
RYAN: We want to have people go from welfare back to work. That’s why we conjoined in our budget the job training programs, consolidate the 47 different job training programs spread across 9 different agencies to scholarships to go to people so they can get new training.
KEYES: But with something like food stamps isn’t that kind of a necessary thing, to eat in order to work?
RYAN: Right, so under the bill we’re moving right now through Congress, food stamps will have increased something like 260 percent over the last decade instead of 270 percent. You will still have seen a massive increase in food stamps, but we think you have to get savings in some of these areas where you’ve had a huge increase in spending. We have prisoners getting food stamps in Wisconsin. We have people that are becoming eligible for food stamps because of other factors that aren’t eligible food stamps in and of themselves. So we think we need to fix the fact that some of these programs have grown at such unsustainable rates.
KEYES: I think fraud was actually at a record low though in 2010.
RYAN: [Silence] Anybody else? All right, thanks everybody.
Demand for food stamps has certainly increased in the past few years, but this is directly a result of the recession. Even at its height, funding for food stamps accounted for a whopping 0.52 percent of GDP in 2011, hardly an “unsustainable” amount as Ryan claims. As the economy continues to recover and fewer people need assistance, that level is projected to be cut nearly in half, all without Ryan’s draconian budget cuts.