The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act contained a substantial boost in Supplemental Nutrion Assistance Program (“food stamps”) funding because standard models show it as being highly stimulative and also because the program is quite stingy. Consequently, when Congress was considering ways to pay for improved child nutrition programs, the Agriculture Committee swiftly abandoned the idea of cutting farm subsidies and instead hit upon the notion of reducing planned increases in SNAP funding. Because why help poor kids by hurting rich farmers when you can improve school lunch by taking away dinner money?
Annie Lowrey observes that SNAP cuts are proving to be a bit like Pringles. Having popped, Democrats just can’t stop raising this fund for other priorities:
Now, Congress is whittling those additional benefits away. Initially, the Senate made a $6.7 billion cut to the stimulus add-on to pay for Medicaid and teachers’ jobs funding this summer. But the bill came in more expensive than expected, so Democrats made a $12 billion cut. Then came the child-nutrition bill. Democrats looked again to SNAP, and took $1.3 billion from the program, pushing the cut date earlier.
Other bills have looked to the cookie jar as well. For instance, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) introduced a new version of the tax extenders’ legislation last week. One of its pay-fors? SNAP benefits. The summary of that bill notes: “[E]ffective January 31, food stamp benefits will return to the levels that individuals would have received in 2014 under pre-Recovery Act law. This modification reduces the cost of the bill by $13.79 billion over ten years.”
Added together, passed and pending legislation proposed by Democrats cut food stamps — a last-resort safety-net benefit considered the single most effective form of stimulus — by more than $27 billion.
I would note that SNAP benefits, while not cash, are much more cash-like than your average in-kind benefit. That makes that super-useful as a stimulus since you’re basically just giving money to people who have very little money and then they go out and buy some stuff.