Shyama Venkateswar Distinguished Lecturer, Hunter College and Director, Public Policy Program, Roosevelt House

Posted on April 8, 2016 · Posted in Frank Friday

Close to a million people in the United States may lose food stamps benefits across the country as states reinstate time limits and work requirements that had been waived in the immediate aftermath of the economic downturn in 2008. About 45 million people currently receive benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as the food stamps program is now called. Unemployed childless adults with low incomes are likely to lose these benefits, starting this month, based on the 1996 Welfare Reform Law which imposes time limits and work requirements in order to receive safety net features like food assistance.

Food policy experts have stated that the time limits regulation will be in effect this year in more than 40 states that represent about 65 percent of the United States population; however, states like West Virginia, New Mexico, and Mississippi may still qualify for time waivers on the basis of high and persistent unemployment.

About 14 percent  or 17.4 million households in the U.S. are food insecure, meaning that heads of these households lack the resources to provide enough food for all their family members. In families with incomes near or below the federal poverty line, or those with children headed by single women or single men, single women living alone, or Black- and Hispanic-headed households, food insecurity is  substantially higher than the national average. Almost 16 million children have been identified living in households without adequate and nutritious food to feed its members every day.

Research has shown that providing benefits through government safety net programs have been the key to decreasing poverty rates over the last five decades. Food stamps, a topic that has been the subject of acrimonious partisan debates, has helped lift almost 4 million people above the established poverty line. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s own Economic Research Service has found that “every $5 in new SNAP benefits generates as much as $9 of economic activity.” Increased SNAP benefits have a “multiplier effect” on the economy; SNAP benefits lead to consumption expenditures that increase the economic activity by the producers of the goods and services being purchased, on the transportation system that delivers the goods and services, and so on.

Cutting food assistance programs is short-sighted. It will only exacerbate the already-unacceptable levels of poverty and inequality in the U.S.

The writing and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute or Hunter College.