Food stamp cuts proposed by Republicans could boot over 5 million people off of the program and create health problems that would cost the country more than the cuts save, according to a new analysis by the Health Impact Project.
If Congress cuts $20.5 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as the initial House farm bill would have done, “as many as 5.1 million people could lose eligibility for the program,” the report found. The vast majority of those affected – 83 percent – already live below the poverty line. On average, losing SNAP benefits would slice the group’s incomes by 38 percent.
Further weakening an already vulnerable population would increase disease rates and thereby raise the country’s health care costs. Building off of previous research that found children who receive food stamps become healthier adults than low-income kids who grow up without food aid, the report predicts a $15 billion increase over 10 years in health care costs related just to diabetes. The cuts would also increase the incidence of heart disease, asthma, and various mental health problems, making it very likely that the SNAP cuts would cost more than they save.
The report adds to the pile of evidence that cutting food stamps would do more harm than good. The program generates economic returns far greater than its costs, producing around $1.70 in economic activity for every dollar it spends. That makes it one of the most efficient ways to stimulate economic activity through government programs.
Yet many in the country still need help. Fifty million Americans are already going hungry, many of them children in rural communities. Food charities that are already working beyond their capacity say they would not be able to pick up Congress’ slack if the cuts go through. By increasing the rate of child hunger, the cuts would undermine educational progress, producing a less competitive future workforce.
The House bill that included the cuts failed in June after Republicans attached an amendment they knew Democrats could not support. Since then, House leadership has split the farm bill, endangering the food stamps program while locking in generous farm subsidies that mostly go to corporate landowners. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), who heads the Agriculture Committee, has warned that House leaders’ handling of the split bill risks derailing the entirety of U.S. agricultural policy.