US House Continues To Fail Americans in Need

On May 10th, the US House of Representatives passed the inappropriately named Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act, which would replace defense spending cuts mandated by last summer’s debt ceiling deal with cuts to programs that actually help people, including nutrition assistance for the poor and the elderly, health care for children and the disabled, and certain employment and training programs.

This vote demonstrates that the House, while committed to protecting burgeoning defense spending, is intent on curtailing support for working families, kids, the elderly, and millions of unemployed workers in the wake of the worst recession since the Great Depression. The bill would, among other brazen attacks on the safety net, slash funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly known as food stamps) by $36 billion over ten years.

Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree sits on the House Agriculture Committee, and she deserves praise for forcefully opposing this latest attack by the House on our most vulnerable citizens. As her committee pivots to crafting the next farm bill, her constituents should continue to support her efforts to defend SNAP.

Nationwide, according to the USDA, about 75 percent of SNAP recipients live in households with children and more than one-quarter live in households with seniors or people with disabilities. Eighty-four percent of monthly SNAP benefits go to households with children, elderly, or disabled individuals. For many of the poorest Americans, SNAP is the only form of income assistance they receive. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance, general assistance, and unemployment insurance are not available to millions of jobless households. Although the benefits average only about $1.50 per person per meal today, SNAP lifted about 4 million people out of poverty in 2010, including about 2 million children (using a new poverty measure that counts the value of SNAP and other non-cash benefits).

SNAP is also effective. Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics rated temporary increases in SNAP benefits first in cost-effectiveness among the 22 tax and spending options he examined to promote economic growth and jobs in a weak economy. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) also rates SNAP at the top for effectiveness in a weak economy. This is because SNAP benefits are quickly spent and injected into the economy, rather than saved.

By design, SNAP costs have risen substantially in the last few years largely in response to the severe economic recession and weak recovery. CBO projects that by 2018, SNAP expenditures will fall back to their 1995 level as a share of the economy. In addition, CBO projects that SNAP expenditures will grow no faster than the economy in future decades, indicating that SNAP is not a factor contributing to the nation’s long-term fiscal problem.

The national jobs crisis shows little sign of abating any time soon. In Maine, our jobs recovery has been virtually non-existent. Struggling families, children, and the elderly need all the help they can get right now. Instead, the US House is inexplicably trying to make life harder for them.