The Village

  • The Moral Economics of Food Stamps

    Nov 4, 2013. Written by Bruce Ormond Grant

    On Nov. 1, the federal government rolled back food stamp benefits for more than 47 million Americans who receive them. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides assistance to 1 in 7 Americans. According to statistics, more than 85 percent of food stamp recipients live in households with children, the elderly, or people with disabilities and more than 1 in 4 American children live in a household that receives food stamps. Further, roughly half of all US children will go on food stamps sometime during their childhood. All in all, the food stamp program costs the federal government about $80 billion a year.

    The cuts to the food stamp program will afford payment for, among other things, a childhood nutrition program. But this all comes at a cost; for a family of 4, the average monthly benefit may shrink by $36; for a family of 3, the average monthly benefit may shrink by $29. The fiscal quagmire surrounding the current rollback of the food stamp program are due to: (1) the expiration of the increases to the food stamp program that were included in President Obama’s economic stimulus plan, and (2) incoherence around, and the inability of Congress to agree on a new Farm Bill. For the average food stamp recipient, the price for their average meal has dropped, by some estimates, to roughly $1.30 – $1.50 per meal.
    So, here we go again.

    By putting less money into the economy (as food stamp money is always spent very quickly), this food stamp rollback smacks of bad economic policy – one statistic estimates that every $1 spent in food stamps leads to $1.70 in economic activity. And, with all political indicators pointing to the new Farm Bill slashing more money from the food stamp program over the coming years (along with increased strictures on eligibility requirements), there are going to be serious long-term challenges ahead. In the short-term, however, there are millions of families that will have less food, with millions less in available meals for children, the elderly, and the disabled – and let us not forget the impact on the working poor (because many people on food stamps have jobs). And veterans are impacted as well.

    Missing from these discussions are real understandings of the impacts of poor nutrition on children, the elderly, the disabled and the poor (including the working poor). Missing from these discussions are real understandings around the impactful ways to increase the capacities of all community partners (food banks, etc.) to effectively help an increasingly stigmatized, marginalized and diverse constituency. Missing from these discussions are real understandings around a host of issues that impact the decision-making processes involved in these dynamic discussions. I use the word “missing” with specific intent, but I will leave its interpretation open within the context of this discussion for all.

    Our leaders need to lead – let us get the economy rolling again (we need to increase labor force participation), let us really help all of our children, our women, our elderly, our veterans. A decrease in food stamp spending means less economic activity, and less economic activity is not good for our economy.

    Doing more with less is the new normal in the United States of America. Unfortunatley for children, poor mothers, the elderly, the disabled and veterans, doing more with less food is their new normal.