“As far as I’m concerned we have no proposed changes” to the food stamps program, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue told congressmen last Wednesday. “You don’t try to fix things that aren’t broken.”
Perdue’s comments, delivering during a Wednesday House Agriculture Committee hearing, seemed to signal that President Donald Trump would not seek to shrink America’s efforts to help low-income families feed themselves.
Yet just five days later, a leaked budget document seems to show the White House is going back on Perdue’s commitment — contemplating some combination of policy changes and outright budget cuts for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps) and other key food supports for the poor.
The leaked spreadsheet lists proposed budget requests for thousands of different government line items, without any of the accompanying policy information that would explain the changes underlying shifts in spending. Without those details, observers can only speculate about what is driving Trump’s proposed changes to federal spending. But the document shows clear and substantial cuts from 2017 budget levels.
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) would be cut by more than a billion dollars — from about $6.3 billion budgeted for the current fiscal year to just $5.2 billion for the next.
SNAP would lose some $8 billion according to the figures listed in the document, a nearly 10 percent cut to a program that’s already seen benefit amounts drop precipitously for vulnerable families thanks to Obama-era panic about deficits.
The Commodity Assistance Programs which subsidize food banks and other nutrition service charities, would also be trimmed back by $20 million, a cut of roughly 6 percent.
Perdue’s comments to the House Agriculture Committee were newsworthy because they run counter to expectations. Trump’s public commitment to seek $800 billion in combined cuts to so-called “entitlement” programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security was widely interpreted to mean that SNAP and WIC would be targeted as well.
The Agriculture Secretary’s assurances to the contrary seemed to mean good news for the 7.7 million mothers and young children who rely on WIC and the roughly 40 million Americans who use SNAP dollars to fill out their shopping budget.
But the leaked budget proposal document suggests the opposite. It is dated May 8, according to the policy organization that obtained the sheet. That means Trump’s apparent food aid cuts wishlist was put together nine days before Perdue assured the public cuts were not coming.