March 27, 2015

Many of you have information we need. The Congressional budget resolutions just passed have targeted vital human needs programs.  Please share in the comment space below examples of the ways lives are changed for the better by any federal program you choose to talk about. We want to hear your own personal story about being helped. Or, if you work for a service provider agency, data or anecdotes about the effectiveness of programs. Or include links to research about programs that work. Read below to see why we’re asking.

looking for outcomes

Help us tell House Budget Committee Chair Tom Price and the rest of Congress how damaging cuts to human needs programs would be. Share your stories of how these programs help in the comments section below.

Richelle Friedman, CHN’s Public Policy Director, and I went around to a number of congressional offices to hand-deliver the SAVE for All letter. The letter calls on Congress to enact a budget that meets human needs and spurs economic growth shared by all, paid for responsibly by more revenues from fair sources and by reducing Pentagon waste. We were expecting just to hand our letter to the receptionist for House Budget Committee Chair Tom Price (R-GA), but he happened to come out. We introduced ourselves and launched into a mini-harangue on the improvements we respectfully sought in his budget. When we pointed out that his budget would cut SNAP/food stamps, he first denied that it did, and then said that really, what matters most is not how much funding is provided but whether the program has good outcomes.

Well, budget resolutions are good at being unclear, but there is pretty firm evidence that Chairman Price’s House budget resolution would cut SNAP by $125 billion during the budget’s 10-year time frame. For one thing, a House Budget Committee staffer said so when asked about it at the session when the committee approved the budget. Their budget documents talk about turning SNAP into a State Flexibility Fund (aka block grant), with the shift to states beginning in 2021. That means the $125 billion cut would be carried out over only 5 years, or, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has pointed out, a one-third cut below SNAP’s projected spending for 2021-2015. No doubt about it – that is a cut.

But what about Chairman Price’s second point: it’s not so much the money that matters, but the outcomes. We certainly agree that outcomes are all-important – we need to keep working to improve everything that government funds. Of course, that should certainly apply to Pentagon funding as well as to human needs programs. And it was notable that Chairman Price altered his budget plan not once, but twice, to satisfy members who insisted on more funding for the military, jacking up its budget still higher than the amount the Pentagon had sought.

The Pentagon does not always shine in the outcomes department. First of all, it’s pretty hard to tell how well their money is spent, because their finances are in too much disarray to be successfully audited. Cost-overruns and expensive weapons systems like the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter plane (plagued with so many problems a defense industry publication recently called it “a hot mess”) are not the outcomes we want.

But SNAP has had decades of proven good outcomes, as demonstrated by recent research looking back to the beginnings of food stamps, when the program was phased in gradually in the 1960s and ’70s, and so provided comparisons of similar people in communities that did or did not yet receive food stamp benefits.  They found that when poor pregnant women received this food assistance in their third trimester, their children had higher average birth weights than in comparable communities without the aid. The researchers also looked at adults at ages 30 – 50, who were children when food stamps were being phased in. If children received food stamps, their health was better in adulthood. When little girls got food stamps, they went further in school, and as adults, had higher earnings, and utilized public safety net programs less. More recently, health researchers in the project Children’s HealthWatch found that when families received the temporary increase in SNAP/food stamp benefits that occurred starting in 2009 because of the Great Recession, their infants and toddlers had better health than children similarly poor who were not receiving SNAP benefits. Before benefits increased, SNAP benefits were not high enough to promote similar improvements.

So – yes, Chairman Price, we would like to improve outcomes in SNAP, but the evidence suggests that the way to do that is to increase the benefit level, something hard to do when you cut funding by one-third. As Children’s HealthWatch says, “Essentially, the dose is not sufficient to treat the illness.”

SNAP, of course, is not the only important program with good outcomes. Lives have been made better with access to housing, job training and apprenticeships, affordable college or child care, meals for seniors, Head Start, and so much more. We need to be able to tell representatives and senators with open minds about the good that these programs do.

Both the House and Senate have passed their respective budget resolutions, and have gone home for two weeks. Regrettably, majorities voted for a vision of government with severe cuts that few human needs programs would escape. But there are many more steps before specific cuts would be enacted. The House and Senate passed outlines to guide future funding decisions. But before they get to the specifics, we have to show them how damaging the cuts would be in their communities, because fewer people will be helped by programs that work.  

You can help – please share the facts below.

[Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr]

Budget and Appropriations
child poverty
Housing and Homelessness
Poverty and Income
Social Services