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Proposed cuts in food stamps will hurt Detroiters

Like most vendors at the Wayne State Farmers Market, Brother Nature accepts SNAP or food stamps.  SEED WAYNE PHOTO

Like most vendors at the Wayne State Farmers Market, Brother Nature accepts SNAP or food stamps.
SEED WAYNE PHOTO

Kami Pothukuchi, Ph. D.
Special to the Michigan Citizen

Amid the recent wrangling over government closure, an important news item went almost unnoticed: on Sept. 19, House Republicans voted to cut $40 billion from food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), over 10 years. This cut, if allowed to stand, would force about 14 million people from the program during the same period. Earlier, the Senate had voted for a $4 billion cut over 10 years.

Additionally, the House bill tightens rules for getting SNAP benefits, which help about 47.6 million people, or nearly 15 percent of the population. The average benefit is about $133 per person each month.

The House explained cuts by blaming fraud and ballooning program costs.

SNAP costs have more than doubled in the last four years from $38 billion to $78 billion. This is hardly surprising given that unemployment and poverty rates have yet to get down to pre-recession levels. In 2007, prior to the recession, only 26.3 million, or 8.7 percent of the population, got food stamps.

Moreover, at one percent, SNAP fraud is the lowest among federal programs and hardly to blame for the budget deficit.

So, who currently relies on food stamps? Nationally, nearly half of SNAP recipients are children, another 20 percent — one in five — are disabled, and about one in 10 (eight percent) is elderly. SNAP rolls include 177,000 veterans.

SNAP funding cuts will hit many Detroit-area residents especially hard. More than 521,000 individuals in Wayne County — nearly three out of 10 residents — received food assistance through SNAP in August this year. Children especially will suffer: they are more than four out of 10 of SNAP recipients.

These proposed cuts will come on top of other cuts that are already in the pipeline. On Nov. 1, 2013, Michigan recipients of SNAP will see their benefits decrease due to the expiry of SNAP increases in the federal stimulus package, known formally as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), since 2009. This increase helped reduce food insecurity and prevented many people from slipping even deeper into poverty in the recession started in 2008.

Most families will see their benefits decrease Nov. 1, due the end of the extra benefits provided by the federal stimulus package. On average, a family of four with no income would likely see their monthly benefits decrease by about $36 come Nov. 1. The actual amount of a household’s SNAP benefit depends on their income, household size and expenses. SNAP recipients can check their new benefit amount on the monthly date their benefits are usually made available by calling: 1.888.678.8914.

SNAP cuts hurt not just individuals and their families when they are forced to go hungry. They also affect communities in a number of ways: economically, socially, and in terms of public health outcomes. For example, economists estimate that every dollar spent on SNAP generates $1.73 to $1.79 in economic growth; the cuts will, therefore, impact an already struggling local economy. Cuts in one program burden other programs and increase spending. For example, the $10 million that was cut from Meals on Wheels due to sequestration is estimated to end up costing the federal government $479 million due to the rise in Medicaid costs because less-well-fed seniors will end up getting sicker. Children who are hungry have trouble learning, are less sociable, and become vulnerable to a host of health problems, all of which can haunt them for the rest of their lives and impose other costs on society.

Along with SNAP cuts, the House bill imposes other restrictions. The bill would restrict benefits for “able-bodied adults,” who aren’t caring for children, to only three months of food stamps during any three-year period, unless they also work part-time or are in a job-training program.

The bill would allow states to require 20 hours of work per week from any able-bodied adult with a child over the age of one, and for all parents whose children are over the age of six and attending school.  allows states to drug-test applicants and it eliminates so-called categorical eligibility, a method used by many states allowing people to qualify for food stamps automatically if they already receive other benefits.

These changes threaten to make life even more difficult for impoverished households already struggling with un- or under- employment, transportation, child care, affordable housing, and other stresses. Our country faces many problems that need thoughtful, just and lasting solutions. Denying food assistance to people who need it is none of these.

Kami Pothukuchi teaches urban planning at Wayne State University, where she also directs SEED Wayne, a campus-community collaborative dedicated to building sustainable food systems. She is also a member of the Detroit Food Policy Council.

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