THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Congress has done a lot of dumb things in the past two years. But nothing has been more ill advised, heartless, and shortsighted than taking food from nearly 50 million low-income Americans, including 1.8 million Ohioans.
Lawmakers have failed to approve a new food-stamp program. They are wrangling over whether to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by $40 billion or $4 billion — at a time when they ought to increase America’s frontline defense against hunger.
Last week, a 2009 stimulus boost expired, cutting already inadequate food-stamp benefits in Ohio and the rest of the county by more than 5 percent. Congress ought to restore those cuts immediately.
Gov. John Kasich could help by requesting that the federal government exempt the state from new work rules that threaten to end SNAP benefits for thousands of Ohioans. There are simply not enough jobs and opportunities for meaningful training to accommodate the new rules.
As it stands, the plan affects 134,000 adults in all but 16 of Ohio’s 88 counties, including Lucas. The entire state could have qualified for a federal waiver, but Mr. Kasich rejected the plan. Instead, he asked for waivers only for counties with especially high unemployment rates.
Ohio’s hunger problem is the 10th worst in the nation. Given that ranking and the cut in benefits, the governor should reconsider and request a statewide federal waiver. Ohio’s already strained emergency food network cannot pick up the slack.
For a family of three, the SNAP reductions amount to $29 a month. That brings benefits down to an average of $1.40 per person per meal, says Wendy Patton of Policy Matters Ohio. A new report by the progressive advisory group shows the changes will cost Ohio $193 million in federal funds over the next year.
Money from SNAP assistance is immediately injected into local economies. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that every dollar spent on SNAP generates $1.70 in economic activity. Federally funded food stamps, now electronic plastic debit cards, pump about $2 billion a year into Ohio’s economy.
The federal nutrition program benefits one of every six Ohioans, nearly half of them children. At least 15 percent of SNAP recipients — an estimated 260,000 people in Ohio — have no cash income; many are likely homeless.
SNAP benefits 22 million children nationwide. Nearly half of them live in households with family incomes below half the poverty line. Almost half of SNAP recipients work, and one in four eligible Americans doesn’t sign up.
The need for U.S. food aid is probably the greatest since the Great Depression. Any cuts to SNAP now are unacceptable.
Still, the Senate has proposed $4 billion in cuts to SNAP. A plan by House Republicans would cut $40 billion from the program. Even a cut of $4 billion would result in 500,000 households losing $90 a month in SNAP benefits, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.
Many SNAP recipients live, without vehicles, in urban food deserts. They can’t get to supermarkets, or buy healthy unprocessed foods at reasonable costs.
Almost half of all U.S. children are expected to get SNAP help at some time during childhood. A recent University of California at Davis study, examining early-childhood access to food stamps, found that children who get assistance become healthier, better educated, wealthier, and more self-reliant adults.
For the first time in nearly 40 years, Congress separated the food stamp program from the farm bill, which provides farmers with subsidies, direct payments, and crop insurance. A successful program that earned solid bipartisan support over decades is in limbo.
Ohioans expect lawmakers to spend their hard-earned tax dollars prudently. But that doesn’t mean taking food out of the mouths of hungry Americans.