The House Agriculture Committee approved a farm bill late Wednesday night that would cut federal food stamps more steeply than any legislation since the welfare reforms of the 1990s. A Democratic amendment to strip $20.5 billion in Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) cuts was defeated by a 27–17 vote, after more than an hour of debate.
In introducing the amendment to protect SNAP funding, Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern (MA) noted that cutting food stamps comes with many expensive unintended consequences — hunger undermines worker productivity, and malnutrition increases medical costs — and that every dollar of spending returns much more than a dollar of economic output. In response, Republican Rep. Steve King (IA) alleged that the White House is seeking to swell the SNAP rolls in order to make Americans more dependent on government:
REP. KING: Handing out benefits is not an economic stimulator. But we wanna take care of the people that are needy, the people that’re hungry, and we’ve watched this program grow from a number that I think I first memorized when I arrived here in Congress, about 19 million people, now about 49 million people. And it appears to me that the goal of this administration is to expand the rolls of people that’re on SNAP benefits. And their purpose for doing so in part is because of what the gentleman has said from Massachusetts. Another purpose for that though is just to simply expand the dependency class.
But the reality for SNAP recipients is far from King’s image of a “dependency class.” The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains that “only 4 percent that worked in the year before starting to receive SNAP did not work in the following year,” and adds that the raw total of recipients who work while enrolled in the program has tripled since 2000.
The think tank also notes that SNAP’s role as an unusually efficient stimulative multiplier is backed by Moody’s Analytics and the Congressional Budget Office.
Furthermore, the program keeps hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Americans out of the deepest pits of poverty, and even as the Great Recession swelled SNAP rolls, the program continued to push its erroneous payments rates to record lows:
Two of the Democrats on the Agriculture Committee — Ranking Member Collin Peterson (MN) and Rep. Mike McIntyre (NC) — joined Republicans in supporting the cuts, which will cause two million people to lose their benefits.