Christine Harbin in RollCall: Farm Bill Spends on All the Wrong Things
he 2013 farm bill is currently working its way through Congress, and proposed cuts to food stamps are at the center of the debate. The Senate version calls for cutting $1.7 billion from this program over the next five years; the slightly more aggressive House version proposes cutting $9.6 billion. These cuts may sound like a lot of money in isolation, but they’re barely a haircut in the big picture. Congress should go further in seeking real reforms to food stamps.
To put these cuts in perspective, we should compare these cuts to the total amount of spending on food stamps. According to the May 2013 Congressional Budget Office baseline, the federal government will spend $394 billion on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program over this same five-year period. That means that the Senate version is a mere 0.43 percent cut, and the House version is a 2.44 percent cut.
We’re not talking about a lot of money here.
Both bills fail to make meaningful changes. Looking closer at the policy proposals, neither solves the main driver for the dramatic growth in food stamp spending. Although the down economy has played a small part, the main reason for skyrocketing spending has been state-based efforts to sweep people onto the program — e.g., removing asset tests and automatically enrolling people based on their participation in other specified government programs. Most of the proposed changes wouldn’t save any money — they have more to do with making a political statement and micromanaging people’s purchases.
Both versions include provisions to encourage buying locally grown fruits and vegetables. The bills also propose to prohibit food stamp benefits for lottery winners and ex-felons, and they reduce benefits for medical marijuana users. The House bill proposes prohibiting people from buying “substantial” bottle deposits with their food stamp benefits, in fear that they would return the bottles for cash and then spend the money on something inappropriate.
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