The House cut Food Stamps by $40 billion yesterday when they passed the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013 (H.R. 3102). The 109 page bill includes a number of requirements for new projects, reports to be written about those projects, and committees to review those projects, plus the budget necessary to do those things. The cost-cutting mostly occurs in one place – “categorical eligibility”.
Categorical eligibility was designed originally as a cost-cutting measure to reduce administrative expenses. The idea was that low-income households that qualified for one assisting program, such as for utilities expenses or housing assistance, would also qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or Food Stamps.
It worked well enough that forty-three states adopted the practice of categorical eligibility. Individuals still had to apply for SNAP, but SNAP administrators could automatically approve those who had already qualified for another form of non-cash aid. In other words, state personnel checked the applicants’ income and assets once and other state agencies could rely on that instead of having to recheck.
With categorical eligibility no longer allowed if this bill passes the Senate, state employees at each agency will have to verify the income and assets of the applicants. There is no money in the bill to hire more people to do the checking. This will increase costs and paperwork for the state employees.
So who got cut? 4 million people will lose their benefits altogether because of the removal of categorical eligibility. 210,000 school children will lose their free school lunch eligibility.
The bill doesn’t provide work opportunities, nor does it provide incentives for working that don’t currently exist in SNAP. According to Feeding America, “The SNAP benefit formula is structured to provide a strong work incentive – for every additional dollar a SNAP participant earns, their benefits decline by about 24 to 36 cents, not a full dollar, so participants have a strong incentive to find work, work longer hours, or seek better-paying employment.” This new bill doesn’t change that.
Most of the bill is comprised of pilot projects. Many of these projects are meant to determine the best way to train people for new jobs. This sounds like a great idea. More efficient job training can only help. They are also sensibly designed with exemptions for households with one or more children, an elderly person, or a disabled person. However, those exempt households receive 83% of SNAP benefits. The pilot projects won’t help most of the households reduce dependency on food stamps. Most of the people the pilot projects will help, won’t be able to find a job until the economy turns around.
Moments of Levity
There were a couple of things I found amusing in the bill. Section 123 is about pilot projects to reduce dependency and increase work effort in the SNAP program. The bill mandates that the pilot projects must “target a variety of populations of work registrants, including childless adults, parents, …” Now you and I might think that those two categories cover the adult population of the entire world, but the authors of the bill go on to include a third category of “individuals with low skills or limited work experience.”
If you’re worried there’s no pork in the SNAP legislation, worry no more. Section 306 is titled “Review of Public Health Benefits of White Potatoes”. No other vegetable is singled out for a study of its nutritional worthiness. I guess somebody’s still upset about not getting enough french fries into the school lunch program this year. Perhaps they could save SNAP a lot of time and money by googling the nutritional value of a potato.
A couple of moments of levity notwithstanding, the bill does a lot of damage to the feeding of America’s hungry.
The next likely step will be to send the House SNAP bill and the House Farm Bill (two separate bills) to a committee with the Senate’s Farm and Nutrition bill (a single bill) and let the committee try to smash these three bills into one.
Let your senators and your representative know what you think of the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013 (H.R. 3102). You can find how your representative voted on this bill here. They don’t know what we think unless we tell them.