The SNAP Debate Gets Real

As you may have heard, a reduction in food stamp (a.k.a. SNAP) benefits goes into effect today from sea to shining sea, affecting 47 million Americans, including 21 million children (1 of 4 of all children). According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

A household of three, such as a mother with two children, will lose $29 a month — a total of $319 for November 2013 through September 2014, the remaining 11 months of fiscal year 2014 (see chart). That equals about 16 meals a month for a family of three based on the cost of U.S. Agriculture Department’s “Thrifty Food Plan.”

No one in Congress voted explicitly for this benefit cut. It results from the expiration of a benefit boost that was part of the 2009 stimulus legislation (remember that?). Now that the economy is rolling along nicely and we need to worry more about budget deficits, it makes sense that this temporary help for needy people is being withdrawn. Oh, wait….

Politically, the interesting thing is that this benefit cut is overlapping with a long-stalled effort to enact a new five-year farm bill that will either cut SNAP funding a little (the Senate version) or a whole lot (the House version), above and beyond what’s happening today. Logically, those Republicans who have bought into the popular conservative theory that increased SNAP enrollment is the product not of a bad economy and intensifying income inequality but of a liberal conspiracy to buy votes through dependence on government should cheer today’s benefit cut, and perhaps hold press availabilities at grocery stores to congratulate SNAP beneficiaries for this marginal enhancement of their independence. I’m sure they’ll be very receptive.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.