In three months, nearly 1.85 million Ohioans — about one out of every six residents, roughly half of them children — will lose some of their food-aid benefits because a federal stimulus program is set to expire. That aid cut is bad enough, but some members of Congress seek even more devastating reductions in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps).
As social policy, slashing SNAP is cruel. As economic policy, it’s dumb and counterproductive, especially as Ohio continues to struggle to overcome the Great Recession. It shouldn’t happen.
When President Obama and Congress in 2009 enacted the key stimulus measure, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, they included a modest increase in SNAP benefits. The goals were to help strengthen the economy and assist households whose heads were unemployed or working at jobs that didn’t pay well enough to keep food on the table.
Once that increase goes away on Nov. 1, a family of four will lose $36 a month in food aid. If that doesn’t sound like a lot, consider that when the cut takes effect, the typical SNAP recipient will get less than $1.40 a meal in aid. Try making three squares a day out of that.
The SNAP benefit cut will cost Ohio $193 million in the next fiscal year, the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates. In Michigan, where nearly 1.8 million people — 18 percent of the population — face a similar aid cut — the state will lose $183 million.
Mr. Obama and some lawmakers want to ease the across-the-board cut, but Congress is unlikely to go along. The cut will reduce SNAP spending by $5 billion a year. But that may be just the beginning.
The Republican-controlled House rejected a farm bill that would have reduced the program by $20 billion, denied benefits to 2 million Americans, and offered states incentives to cut off even more families — because it didn’t go far enough. GOP lawmakers now propose a $40 billion cut in SNAP — half the size of the program.
It’s hard to know whom these lawmakers want to punish, and why. More than 47 million Americans, including 22 million children and 9 million old or seriously disabled people, get SNAP benefits. Such aid often makes the difference in whether a family goes hungry.
But for those bottom-line types who are more concerned with economic growth than social welfare, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calculates that every $1 increase in SNAP aid, in Ohio and elsewhere, generates $1.70 in economic activity. Food stamps aren’t hoarded; they’re spent immediately at grocery stores, and the money circulates in the local economy.
Ohio food banks, pantries, and other charities do an admirable job of helping our hungry neighbors, but they can’t do it alone. The help provided by SNAP is a modest but essential lifeline. Cutting the program further would hurt a lot of vulnerable Ohioans — many of whom live in Republican congressional districts.