It has become a set piece of political theater for liberal Democrats, carried out in recent weeks by everyone from New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner to Connecticut senator Chris Murphy and a bevy of congressmen: attempting to eat on the $4.50-per-day food budget supposedly provided by the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the program formerly known as “food stamps.” While always good for a headline, and generally accompanied by amusing photographs of the bizarre meals the politicians cobble together on their meager budget, the so-called SNAP challenge is also arrant nonsense.
Debate on the House Agriculture Committee’s version of the next farm bill will begin in the Republican-controlled chamber in June. One of the most contentious issues will be spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, a.k.a, food stamps). The House Ag bill would cut SNAP spending by $20.5 billion over 10 years versus the Congressional Budget Office’s baseline. That’s too much for Democrats and it might be too little for conservative Republicans.
Last week, the Senate accepted by unanimous consent an amendment to the pending farm bill that would ban convicted murderers, rapists, and pedophiles from receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (a.k.a. food stamps). Introduced by Louisiana Republican David Vitter, the amendment has received condemnation from the left and at least one round of applause on the right.
The federal food stamp program—now called SNAP—is attracting a lot of media coverage. One reason for thus is that the program’s costs have exploded—spending more than quadrupled during the Bush-Obama years to $82 billion in 2013 (see here and here p. 16). The Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations all took steps to loosen the purse strings on food stamp eligibility, and those changes have led to the ballooning costs of recent years during the stagnant economy.
Republicans are jumping on the news that participation in the food stamps program hit a new record of 46.7 million individuals in June (about one in seven Americans). In a sluggish economy, an increase in food stamps participation is to be expected. Thus, it’s fair to hold up the increase in food stamps usage as being emblematic of the Obama administration’s failed economic policies. In addition, the president’s 2009 “stimulus” bill increased benefits and eligibility.
Newt Gingrich had fun calling President Obama the “food stamp president,” but many Republicans are just as responsible for the exploding costs of this welfare state program.