The Myth Of ‘Dependency’: Almost All Households On Food Stamps Will Be Employed Within A Year

One of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) favorite ways of defending the House Republicans’ budget is to claim the social safety net represents a moral threat to Americans’ character, as well as a fiscal threat to their country’s budget. He’s incessantly warned of luring “able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency” and depriving them “of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.” In his latest budget, he introduced his cuts to Medicaid, nutrition assistance, and other support programs for low-income Americans with a warning that the safety net “can create a powerful disincentive to get ahead.”

Included in those cuts is a massive reduction in spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). But the Center On Budget and Policy Priorities took a look at the employment situation of Americans who rely on the program, and the reality belies Ryan’s rhetoric:

Among households with children that include an adult who isn’t elderly or disabled, 87 percent of the households receiving SNAP in a given month include an individual who worked in the prior year or will work in the following year.

Ryan actually has an ongoing problem when it comes to honestly representing the SNAP program. Last year, he claimed it was “growing at unsustainable rates” — a notion that fails to account for the effects of the recession, that fails to differentiate spending in raw dollars from spending as a share of the economy, and which utterly ignores the program’s projected path over the next decade.


Ryan’s budget would cut SNAP spending by $135 billion between now and 2023 — requiring either 12 to 13 million of the 44.7 million people currently on the program to be kicked off, or a reduction in benefits of $190 a month for the poorest of American families by 2019. Nor did the 1996 welfare reform law — on which Ryan models his current budget proposals — turn out to be the success he presents it as. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, welfare’s case load grew only 16 percent, even as the numbers of the unemployed increased by 88 percent; an utter failure to keep up with the needs of impoverished Americans.

As for the safety net as a whole, CBPP cites research from the National Bureau of Economic Research that one of every seven Americans would be poor without the safety net, but are above the poverty line because of it — a total of over 40 million people.