SNAP benefits have been in the news over the past few weeks as Congress tries to pass a Farm Bill. The Senate passed a bill that made some cuts to the SNAP program, while the House separated SNAP from the Farm Bill and proceeded to cut SNAP so that 5 million people would no longer be eligible for food support. The GOP ( including the locals who don’t have much to say other than to repeat the talking points sent to them each day, and the media, unfortunately) are pushing messaging that tries to link the SNAP program with economic recovery. This messaging ignores some key points:
- Most SNAP participants were children or the elderly. Nearly half (45 percent) of participants were under age 18 and nearly 9 percent were age 60 or older. These aren’t people who are going to be in the job market.
- Many SNAP Participants Have Jobs. More than 30 percent of SNAP households had income in 2011, and 41 percent of total participants lived in a household with earnings.
- Number of SNAP Participants Has Been Increasing Since the 1990′s. From the USDA:
SNAP participants declined steadily through 2000 but began to rise in 2001 and increased each year through 2011, except for a slight dip in 2007. The increase was substantial from fiscal year 2010 to fiscal year 2011. Average monthly participation increased from 17.2 million individuals in fiscal year 2000 to 40.3 million in fiscal year 2010, and to 44.7 million in fiscal year 2011.
In spite of the GOP message brigade on this thing, what the program statistics themselves tell you is that 1) we have too many elderly and children living in poverty and 2) we have too many people who are actually working who don’t make wages that will get them out of poverty:
- We know that there’s a good number of full-time employees of the State of Delaware who qualify for SNAP, child care assistance and/or school lunch programs because they aren’t paid wages that keep them out of the poverty level.
- Military families will redeem about $100M in SNAP benefits. This $100M is just from what gets redeemed in commissaries — and doesn’t account for what might be redeemed outside of the base. But the USDA found in 2011, that 5,000 SNAP beneficiaries called themselves “active military”.
- Low wage workers from places like Walmart, McDonalds, etc. are often eligible for SNAP and other anti-poverty benefits. These people have jobs, but not jobs that keep them out of poverty. I can’t find a national survey that captures the workers who are receiving SNAP benefits, but this article takes a report done by the Democratic staff of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce and extrapolates from there, using the numbers of people making $10/hour or less. But with 26M+ Americans working for $10 or less, there’s a substantial number of people who work eligible for SNAP. Here is a good summary of the numbers of workers by state (where the data is available) who are taking advantage of state Medicaid and SCHIP programs.
- Middle class jobs are disappearing and 3 out of 5 jobs created in the Great Recession have been low wage jobs. In other words, people who may have skills, training and education for what was middle class employment are taking the kind of jobs that teenagers used to do.
An honest read of the data would show you that the increases in the SNAP program aren’t part of the Welfare Queen narrative or even the weak economic recovery narrative — it is a narrative of increased numbers of people falling into poverty because their working wages don’t support their families. As fast-food workers are getting alot of attention to their rolling strikes, this ought to be pretty plain. It would be nice if Democrats would take up this argument and help these families push for the kind of wages that might eliminate the need for SNAP participation, instead of just wringing their hands about cutting benefits. The NJ reports today that our Congressional delegation is gaining in clout in DC — it would be useful to the people of Delaware if they’d take some leadership helping these folks get the kind of salaries that might justify the kinds of cuts to these programs they so theatrically bemoan AND vote to cut. Because why should taxpayers subsidize a low wage economy?