CHN: Congress Poised to Consider Cuts to SNAP in January

Leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are reportedly close to a deal on a farm bill they hope to have ready for Conference Committee consideration in early January followed by floor votes.  The bill reauthorizes nutrition programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and agriculture programs for five years. By all accounts, the bill will include an $8-9 billion cut to SNAP.  This follows the $11 billion cut that occurred on November 1 when the temporary boost provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 ended.  The November reduction resulted in an average monthly cut of $36 for a household of four, further squeezing already tight family budgets. This cut lowers the average benefit to $1.40 per meal per person, not enough to provide healthy food.
The Senate bill that passed in June cuts SNAP by $4.1 billion and this fall’s House bill cuts the program by nearly $40 billion. The $8-9 billion cut to SNAP in the conference report would result from significantly restricting the coordination of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) with SNAP, the so-called ‘Heat and Eat’ provision. Currently SNAP-eligible households with a nominal LIHEAP payment are allowed to deduct a standard allowance for shelter and utilities, thereby increasing their SNAP benefit. This is particularly beneficial for seniors and those with disabilities who pay a high proportion of their income for shelter costs. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia utilize ‘Heat and Eat.’  If passed, the Congressional Budget Office stated in a letter to House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) that this provision would lower SNAP benefits for approximately 850,000 recipients by about $90 per month.

Advocates are working vigorously to oppose further SNAP cuts.  The program has proven to be one of the strongest anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs assisting families and communities.  As of August 2013, 47.6 million persons were participating in SNAP.  In 2012, SNAP kept nearly 5 million people, including 2.2 million children, out of poverty and reduced child poverty by three percentage points.  The large majority of SNAP participants are children, seniors, or people with disabilities.  Furthermore, nearly one million SNAP recipients are veterans, according to a new report from the Administration, “Supporting Families, Strengthening Communities: the Economic Importance of Nutrition Assistance.”  Investments in reducing hunger have also proven to have a positive impact on the economy.  Similar to unemployment insurance, SNAP has shown to be an extremely effective means of boosting economic growth during economic downturns.  Every $1 spent on nutrition assistance results in $1.70 in economic activity according to Moody’s Analytics.

The 2008 Farm Bill (PL 112-24) expired on September 30.  Absent an extension or reauthorization, the nutrition and agriculture programs continue to be funded based on provisions in the law.  Without a new farm bill in January, however, provisions dealing with dairy price supports are set to revert back to those set in the 1949 farm law (PL 81-439) which would significantly increase the price of milk and other dairy products.  The 1949 law, based on assuring an adequate supply of milk, kept dairy prices artificially high by guaranteeing that the government would purchase an unlimited amount of dairy products at a set minimum price. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, however, has assured lawmakers that it would take the Department of Agriculture several months to develop regulations and procedures related to reinstating the outdated subsidies.  Nonetheless, on December 12 prior to adjourning for the year the House passed a 30-day farm bill extension (H.R. 3695) as a backstop if a new bill does not pass in January.  Senate leaders will not pass an extension before the end of the year lest it be an incentive to delay action on a new farm bill in January.


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