by Meteor Blades / Daily Kos / August 3, 2011
One thing about statistics associated with the Great Recession is the sheer number of times you can say we’re experiencing the “biggest rise” or the “steepest decline” since the Great Depression or since the government has collected data for a particular economic measurement. A record number of people collecting unemployment benefits. A record number of people out of work for more than six months. A record number of home foreclosures. A record number of bank failures. A record number of people using food stamps.
Indeed, the record on food stamps has been going on for well over two years now. In March 2009, that record was 31 million people. Now, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a whopping 45.8 million people are getting them. It would be a lot more, but only about 67 percent of the eligible people actually apply. It’s just one more example of the devastation wrought by the Great Recession. And how appallingly inadequate the so-called “recovery” has been.
Actual paper stamps were phased out more than a decade ago and replaced with a debit-card system. And the name of the program was changed in 2008. It’s now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). But most people still call them food stamps.
As the name suggests, SNAP is not meant to be the only money an individual or household spends for food. But, in fact, it makes up the bulk of such spending among the vast majority of recipients. If you’re skilled enough and have the time and the access to good raw food materials, you can scrimp by on a food stamp budget.
That latest count of recipients is for May, and you can be fairly certain that it’s worse this month. Food stamps are, of course, one of the Great Society programs that most elected Republicans didn’t want in 1964, when the program passed, and most elected Republicans now seek to cut at every opportunity. Because, you see, giving people a subsidy to buy food for themselves and their kids makes them lazy.
Take a look at Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan passed by the House in April. As some people learn too late, oratory may be what inspires people, but budgets make policy. And that budget is a manifesto for dismantling the New Deal and Great Society programs that have been on the right-wing’s hit list since they were first enacted. Ryan’s plan would transform SNAP into block grants to the states and let them come up with “innovative approaches to delivering aid.”
Those block grants would be funded at only 80 percent of the current level of SNAP spending. And that would means cuts of $127 billion between now and 2021. Not only would this mean a cut in benefits, the plan would impose a time limit on how long a recipient would be eligible for food stamps.
Guess who gets screwed in this GOP vision for America’s past future: In fiscal year 2009, when the last USDA survey was done, 48 percent of all SNAP participants were children. A peer-reviewed study in 2009 (Estimating the Risk of Food Stamp Use and Impoverishment During Childhood) calculated that 49 percent of all children will receive food-stamp benefits sometime before they are 20 years old. Seniors make up 8 percent of recipients. Some 93 percent of recipients have incomes below the official poverty line.
Some 40 percent of recipients live in households where at least one adult has a job, the working poor. Paid on a sliding scale according to income, food stamp benefits average $133.80 a month per individual, and $283.65 a month per household.
Five years ago, the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger issued a challenge: live on a food stamp budget for a week. A year later, several elected officials, including Rep. Chris Hollen of Maryland, took up the challenge. The results? It was tough going.
Because of its flexibility, the SNAP program has functioned exactly as it was designed to do during the recession and its aftermath. It is pure Keynesianism, putting money into the pockets of people who desperately need it and who spend it immediately. Almost 80 percent of SNAP benefits are redeemed within two weeks of receipt, and 97 percent are spent within a month.
SNAP benefits can be redeemed at any of the more than 200,000 retail outlets in communities across the nation that are authorized to participate in the program. Because the benefits quickly reach families and communities in need, and because recipients are highly likely to spend the money quickly, economists view SNAP as one of the most effective forms of economic stimulus during an economic downturn. The USDA estimates that every dollar of food stamps gives a $1.79 boost to the economy. Independent analysts like Moody’s puts the figure around $1.72.
In the 2009 survey, the majority of SNAP households did not receive cash welfare benefits. Less than 10 percent of all SNAP households received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits and another 5 percent received State General Assistance (GA) benefits. About 24 percent of SNAP households received Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits and over 22 percent received Social Security.
Clearly, these Americans should be targeted for shared sacrifice.