Op-Ed: House SNAP Cuts Would Be Devastating to New Jersey’s Struggling Families

This op-ed appeared on the September 19, 2013 edition of the Bergen Record.

NJPP Op-EdThere are many reports about how our economy is on the mend — the unemployment rate is dropping, home values are increasing, the stock market is rising. But the picture doesn’t seem as rosy for half a million New Jerseyans who are still unemployed.

Almost 12 million Americans remain out of work — 4 million of whom have been searching for work for more than half a year. Another 8 million are involuntarily working part-time. All told, some 22 million people are unemployed or underemployed.

Unfortunately, unemployment benefits are drying up for many of these jobless workers, leaving them to choose between paying their bills and putting food on the table.

That’s where the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP, formerly known as food stamps — comes in.

SNAP, the nation’s most important anti-hunger program, has provided a vital lifeline for unemployed workers and their families during the recession and the recovery. Despite its very basic benefit levels, an average of $1.40 per person per meal, the program has helped millions of unemployed individuals and their families get by during these tough times.

Despite this continuing need, Republicans in the House of Representatives, including Rep. Scott Garrett, R-Wantage, are proposing to cut $40 billion over 10 years from the program. That plan — which doubles the already harsh cuts the House considered and rejected earlier this year — would eliminate basic food assistance for 4 million to 6 million Americans, including poor jobless adults in areas with high unemployment, children, working poor families, seniors and veterans.

A vote is slated for today.

This proposal would deny food assistance to people who want to work but cannot find a job or training program — and, in some cases, their children.

Proponents have mischaracterized these cuts as “work requirements.” The truth is that the provisions simply would cut people from SNAP who can’t find jobs. The problem is a lack of jobs – not a lack of willingness to work.

While SNAP provides a critical support to the unemployed, it helps working families, too. The overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work do work. Among SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, more than half work while receiving SNAP — and more than 80 percent work in the year before or the year after.

This devastating proposal comes on top of already enacted SNAP cuts. SNAP benefits already are slated for a cut in November, when temporary assistance enacted to respond to increased need during the recession expires, resulting in an across-the-board benefit cut for all SNAP recipients. The House Republicans’ proposal would worsen food insecurity for jobless and working Americans, including many of their children, many of whom already struggle to have enough to eat at the end of each month.

SNAP grew over the past few years due to the prolonged recession and slow recovery, but enrollment has leveled off recently. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projects that SNAP spending will fall as the recovery continues.

In the meantime, it’s one of the most effective ways to stimulate a struggling economy. Moody’s Analytics estimates that in a weak economy, every $1 increase in SNAP benefits generates about $1.70 in economic activity. And, CBO rated an increase in SNAP benefits as one of the two most cost-effective ways to boost growth and jobs.

Despite SNAP’s strong track record, some in Congress want to end food assistance to some of the nation’s poorest households – even as the economy still struggles to create enough jobs for those who want to and are able to work.

Instead of ending food assistance for Americans still trying to find work or barely getting by with the jobs they have, Garrett and his colleagues should give them a helping hand by focusing their energy on creating jobs that pay livable wages. That would do more than anything to reduce the need for SNAP – in a more productive, less harmful way.

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