Food Stamps in America

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The economic security of Americans is important to the functioning of the nation as a whole. Policy makers as well as elected officials are concerned with maintaining the most secure system possible to eliminate and alleviate much of the poverty that plagues this nation in the post-recession years. Recently, a bipartisan decision was made to end a federal stimulus package that had provided aid to programs such as the Supplement Nutritional Food Stamps program, or SNAP. The implementation of this decision thus far has caused a total of $5 billion to be diverted in the budget from the SNAP program, which has affected the nation as a whole. The program changes have been reported as affecting an average of 1 in 7 Americans (Waldman) and have had consequential impact on the larger market economy. The cuts were designed to phase in over a period of ten years, but effects are already becoming apparent (Severson and Hu). Citizens who qualify for SNAP assistance have seen a reduction in benefits ranging from different amounts of food stamp dollars, meanwhile current debates within the political sphere continue as policymakers question the large-reaching consequences of such cuts.

Part of a 2009 federal stimulus package provided relief to those below the poverty line in the United States by allowing the SNAP program to expand with an influx of federal backing. In the past ten years, federal spending on the SNAP program has more than doubled (Bjerga). This has resulted in an increase of families and the working poor enrolled in the program to receive benefits, whether such benefits are used as a sole source of income towards food or as the program is named, in assistance towards the household budget. Part of the recent increase in qualified recipients of assistance was that during the economic downturn, many Americans were laid off or forced into lower-wage jobs. This created a demand for nutritional assistance programs. According to data gathered from the US Department of Agriculture, around 49 million Americans currently struggle to put food on their plates (Bjerga). Included in this statistic are dependents of SNAP benefit recipients who are affected by decisions made as to which food purchases are made to sustain a household. It is of vital importance to the debate that the nature of food purchasing be considered, as it is more often than not decision-making that affects more than just the one recipient.

The political rhetoric used to describe the issue tends towards assigning blame to either party, or shifting it to President Obama. Food stamps recipients are portrayed as being either the drug-using unemployed, or single working mothers. In reality, SNAP benefits are used by a wide array of Americans, around 47 billion people (Dean and Rosenbaum). This program affects citizens of every demographic and geographic location, notably including a comparable population of citizens in southern GOP-led states. This is significant because it has been Republican leaders sounding the call for budget reform in Congress (Godoy). Even the most fiscally conservative policymakers must examine the evidence as to whom these program changes are affecting. It is vital to provide a grounded explanation of the entirety of such a program, and to project detrimental changes to overall economic activity before they happen. The tools and resources exist to

The House plans includes stipulations that will enact drug-testing of those eligible for food stamps benefits, as well as eliminating categorical eligibility requirements that allow citizens to receive nutrition assistance when they are enrolled other aid programs without further qualification necessary (Bjerga). These more stringent restrictions will act as guidelines within which the program can be reduced to a lower number of participants. Additional restrictions within the program aimed at reducing system fraud are a step in the right direction to maintaining functionality without compromising those who are truly in need. Yet it took until the federal budget was already in the process of being cut down for policymakers and representatives to come to agreement about which changes to make. The effects of such legislative changes cannot now be examined as separate from overall spending cuts in order to determine if they alone would have been sufficient to stimulate the economy. The United States is only in the first stages of a program set to kick in over the long-term, but the worry is that current effects are indicative of a larger problem to come with increased spending cuts. The adage “only time will tell” is appropriate in this circumstance, however there is a huge risk in applying this to a situation that impacts so many millions of Americans and can only run smoothly with an amount of planning for future provisions.

There is an undeniable impact to the larger community as these budget changes are implemented. Cuts to the SNAP program do not alleviate the burden of hunger from the American population; rather it shifts the responsibility to assist in these matters to the community level. Food banks as well as Parish cupboards are in greater demand than ever before, and many are not capable of stocking enough resources for the families that come out of need (Severson, Hu). This signifies a lack of planning and general concern from lawmakers in Washington as to the importance of such issues. When communities are left to band together and gather resources, the impacts of any failure to provide such amounts necessary to ensure every citizen’s comfort are felt moreso than when it is the government that takes on such a task.

Certain difficulties in making the argument for either side of the debate over SNAP in America result from the emotional nature of discussion about food provision. Reporting about the program is often intermingled with pathological appeals to emotions that are a natural response to descriptions of small families struggling to make ends meet. The truth of the matter is that a large part of American population has struggled financially in recent years. For reasons related to the economic bust/boom cycle, many people do not have enough money to comfortably provide for themselves and their families. Data provided by the Department of Agriculture shows a 16% jump in program enrollment from 2010 to 2012 (Severson and Hu). That’s as measured from the existing 40.3 million people enrolled in the program in the 2010 fiscal year (Severson and Hu). No matter which side of the argument a person chooses to acknowledge, the enormity of the SNAP program must be taken into consideration when examining the impact cuts to this program will cause. The current economic and political climates are not conducive to sustaining the impact of hastily made decisions, yet political leaders seem to content to stop at shoddy compromise when deciding on the fiscal future of this nation.

There is considerable discussion about whether the SNAP program provides too much federal assistance to enrolled participants in that it discourages their searching for employment opportunities. Clearly, if a person is able to work full time and make enough money to purchase food without assistance, they should do so. However the reality is that not every American has the desire to hold down a full-time job and make money. And while there are those citizens who would choose to receive benefits through loopholes that allow for them to obtain food stamps dollars, there are just as many in need of the assistance who are unable to obtain a secure source of income. The issue with examining this argument in favor of spending cuts is that it does not give just consideration to the many disabled or veteran citizens as well as children who are affected by the program. The Agriculture Department has reported that around 45% of those who currently receive federal benefits are children (Severson and Hu). Surely Democrats and Republicans alike would consider drug-testing every child in a SNAP receiving household to be ridiculous. It would drain resources and likely prove unnecessary. Yet both parties have failed to come to a compromise soon enough to facilitate for changes that do not include an overall budget reduction totaling in the millions of dollars, and are only now presenting solutions to a problem that has plagued the nation for decades.

The federal spending cuts affect the retail chain all the way up to corporate giants such as Walmart. The company, which reports receiving about 18% of food stamps dollars per fiscal year, has recently seen shopper trends point towards less spending (AP/Huffpo). This has had a resulting impact on decreasing shares of Walmart’s stock, not a good indication of future economic recovery. The company has publicly acknowledged the difficulties that they and other competing retailers face in generating shopper revenue when times are so economically tough (AP/Huffpo). It is a clear indication of the far-reaching consequences that the federal cuts have had, even fiscal conservatives who align with corporate entities are obligated to examine what it means that one of the biggest international retailers is seeing shortfalls in revenue (AP/HuffPo). Such data points towards the interconnectedness of the larger macro-economy to the smallest decisions made concerning household spending. The choices consumers make regarding where to spend their money do not prove relevant to corporations such as Walmart until they are looked at cumulatively as fiscal reports made across certain spans of time. They are still of increased relevance in times of economic downturn, as consumer spending boosts a stagnant financial climate. When people have no money to spend, growth cannot occur. The main reason that debate about the SNAP program remains so heavily partisan relates to the core tenants that each party has espoused within the current system. Republicans tend to favor less government assistance to citizens and an increased emphasis on business regulating the American economy, rather than allotting money to federal aid programs. Democrats, on the other hand favor government spending back into programs designed to help minorities and the economically downtrodden. In recent years, these respective positions have become sticking points, to such a point that members of either party are not able to compromise political beliefs in such a way as to allow moving forward. For too long, the United States has been in a political gridlock as policymakers are unable to incite change. This problem is finally coming to a head with recent debates about the food stamps program, which stands for the significance of a larger issue.

The question of whether the United States government should be making spending cuts to the SNAP program is both hotly contested and unfortunately politicized. The reality is that an impoverished person does not fall into a political party system definition. They are concerned with survival. Food is a staple that so many people do not think twice about until there is the risk of it being taken away, a harsh truth that has become the daily reality for many Americans. The current combination of spending cuts, increased job losses, and the rising price of many staple goods within the American economy has provided many with a reason to worry looking towards the future of government spending. Compromise is needed, which it is evident can only come from allowing budget changes to be enacted and later examined for influence. From examining the current data, it is clear that budget cuts are affecting those Americans who were most affected from the recent recession, those who receive SNAP benefits. The program that expanded after receiving a federal stimulus is a vital component of many households today. However it can no longer reach as many people as is necessary to relieve economic downturn and reduce the overall impact of a struggling population.

Works Cited

Berman, Jillian. "Walmart And Its Customers Pinched By Food Stamp Cuts." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 14 Nov. 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/14/walmart-food-stamp-cuts_n_4273498.html

Bjerga, Alan. "Food Stamp Costs Swelled by States Spending $1 for Heat."Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 18 Nov. 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2013, <http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-11-18/food-stamp-costs-swelled-by-states-spending-1-for-heat.html>

Dean, Stacy, and Dottie Rosenbaum. "Center on Budget and Policy Priorities." Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3899, 2 Aug. 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2013,<http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3899>

Godoy, Maria. "See How Food Stamp Cuts Are Hitting Across The U.S." NPR. NPR, 17 Nov. 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2013, http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/11/17/245487636/see-how-food-stamp-cuts-are-hitting-across-the-u-s

Severson, Kim, and Winnie Hu. "Cut in Food Stamps Forces Hard Choices on Poor."New York Times. New York Times, 7 Nov. 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2013, <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/08/us/cut-in-food-stamps-forces-hard-choices-on-poor.html?_r=0>

Waldman, Katy. "What It's Like to Have Your Food Stamps Cut." Slate Magazine. Slate Magazine, 13 Nov. 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2013, http://www.slate.com/articles/