Save Our Safety Nets
Save Our Safety Nets
By: Allison Berkowitz
Feeding millions each year isn’t cheap, but what’s the cost of being a nation willing to let its people go hungry? The U.S. House is on recess in August, but before leaving, they voted on a budget resolution which would strip billions away from our country's safety nets. Programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP), which is my focus here, are meant to ensure that struggling people have a chance to meet their basic needs. The program is our first and best line of defense against hunger in the United States. Here in Maryland, about 730,000 people used the program last year, with 30% of those here in Baltimore. Until we fix the systematic inequities which cause vast numbers of people to struggle, the very least we can do is have appropriate protections in place to catch people when they fall.
One reason SNAP is being targeted is its cost. In 2015, the program required $75 billion. However, to put that into context, we also spent $224 billion that year in interest on our national deficit. SNAP is worth every penny we spend on it and should be protected. If the simple humane justification of helping others isn’t enough, let’s look at how the program benefits the whole country. First, for every $5 given out in SNAP benefits, $9 is generated in economic activity. Second, for every $1 billion spent on SNAP, approximately 13,000 jobs are created. Third, anyone who’s dealt with a government agency knows efficiency is something many programs struggle with. SNAP, however, is a rare breed of high benefit and low waste, with 93% of costs going directly to food assistance, and an error rate of less than 1%. If it ain’t broke - and efficiently feeds millions, while simultaneously pulling many out of poverty - don’t “fix” it, and certainly don’t cut it!
Keeping the amount of existing funding is critical, but we also need to pay attention to how the program is structured. Currently, SNAP exists as an “entitlement program,” but something being considered is turning it into “block grants.” This might not sound harmful, but with block grants, firm restrictions could be placed on how many people can enroll, it could be made harder to enroll, and the amount of benefits given out could be cut. For an example of why this would have poor efficacy, we only need look back to 1996’s attempt at welfare reform. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) was controversially successful. While the number of individuals requesting welfare went down, people still desperately needed assistance but gave up on trying to access help from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Changing SNAP’s structure could easily lead to a similar outcome and will drastically alter our country’s ability to help millions of Americans who don’t have enough to eat.
Running our country - and ensuring the health of its citizens - is an expensive but necessary and worthwhile endeavor. If we can continue to provide welfare to companies like Wal-Mart (which receives about $7.8 billion a year in federal subsidies and tax breaks) and spend billions of dollars subsidizing stadiums, can’t we ensure that people have enough to eat? Allocating funds to non-essential causes while stripping money from a program as important as SNAP is unconscionable. The US House wants to bring the proposed 2018 budget - including the cuts to SNAP and Medicaid - to the floor in the coming months. The House is home now, please join me in holding our legislators accountable - as I will with my Representative, Andy Harris - and then celebrating their efforts to keep food on the table in every American home.