California’s 3 million-plus food stamp recipients are due for a big cut in benefits on November 1, but if the GOP-controlled House of Representatives has its way, around 350,000 of them won’t be in the program for very long anyways.
The House voted 217-210 last week to slash the program by $39 billion over 10 years, require able-bodied adults to work, shorten the benefits period to three months and limit eligibility. Republicans cast all the “yes” votes. One in seven American households, ravaged by five years of the Great Recession, receive food stamps.
Members of the GOP argued that having food stamps discourages people from working. If true, poor people are easily dissuaded. The average food stamp recipient in California received $149.05 a month in fiscal year 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). That’s about $5 a day.
Poor people also may be dissuaded by California’s rising 8.9% unemployment rate and reports that there are three eligible candidates for every job opening. That also may partially account for the 81% increase in the number of people collecting food stamps since the Great Recession began five years ago, rather than an outbreak of laziness among the lower class.
Proponents of the legislation also argued that the program is riddled with fraud and mismanagement, and unworthy of taxpayer support. Although the media is full of stories about people ripping off the system in one way or another, the USDA puts food stamp fraud at 1%, an improvement from 4% in 1993. As for mismanagement, every dollar cut from the program will come out of recipient money because the program operates with a very lean 5% overhead.
To qualify for food stamps, formally called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by the feds, a recipient must be at or below 130% of the federal poverty level. Around 49% of recipients are children. Two-thirds of SNAP children live in single-parent households and 76% of benefits end up in households with children. Households with disabled people get 16% of the benefits and elderly households get 9%.
Opponents of the bill say the SNAP household profile, revealing recipients to be the most vulnerable members of society, simplifies the arguments surrounding the legislation and expose it as part of a broad ideological attack on all entitlements regardless of their success or the need of the recipients.
If H.R. 3102, the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act, dies in the Senate or is vetoed by President Barack Obama, as many expect, that would still leave standing the November 1 cuts. That reduction kicks in when 2009 economic stimulus legislation under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act expires.