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(Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)
Confirming other reports and common sense, a U.S. Department of Agriculture has concluded that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known to everyone as the food stamp program, kept the poverty rate down during the Great Recession. It had "a particularly strong effect on child poverty." In the nine years covered by the study, beginning in 2000, food stamps reduced the poverty rate by 4.4 percent. But in the deep recession year of 2009, it cut the rate by 8 percent.

The economic challenges created by the Great Recession and the weak recovery that followed has generated a completely understandable rise in food stamp use. That hit a record high 46 million Americans in December. In the last couple of months of 2011, usage began to plateau, and in January, the last month for which we have numbers, it dropped ever so slightly. But usage was still nearly 7 percent higher than in January 2011.

The program lifted the average poor person’s income up about six percent closer to the line over the length of the study, making poverty less severe. When the benefits were included in the income of families with children, the result was that children below the threshold moved about 11 percent closer to the line.
The USDA report tracks with a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The reports, of course, make no never mind to politicians like Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Allen West (R-FL). Food stamps just make people dependent, they say.

Eating certainly is a dependency. To solve this terrible problem, they'd like to eviscerate responsibly reform the program.

The Ryan budget—that is, the Republican budget—would transform SNAP into block grants to the states, with reduced funding and a life-time cap on how long someone could receive assistance. Those block grants would be funded at only 80 percent of the current level of SNAP spending. And that would mean cuts of $127 billion between now and 2021. Not only would this mean a cut in benefits, the plan would impose a time limit on how long a recipient would be eligible for food stamps. The impact would be felt by millions. And not just those individuals dependent on the food-stamp supplement but by small businesses dependent on income from the program.

By comparison, Sen. Richard Lugar, the Republican who represents Indiana from his home in Virginia, is a pussycat. He has proposed S. 1658, which would whack $14 billion from SNAP over 10 years. The human cost: A million Americans would lose food stamp eligibility, 200,000 of them children.

Deborah Hinde, chief health care strategist at Vital Bridges Center on Chronic Care/Heartland Health Alliance, says the people who will suffer most are seniors:

Analysis of federal data from the Current Population Survey's Food Security Supplement shows that in 2009, about 19% of households with adults ages 60 and over with low incomes—under 185 percent of the poverty line—were food insecure. In comparison, slightly less than 15 percent of all households were food insecure.

"Shrinking food stamp coverage will likely hit senior citizens the hardest," said Hinde.

But just the poor ones. The rich ones would no doubt benefit from tax cuts funded by these efforts to make people stop being so dependent on eating.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Tue Apr 10, 2012 at 12:39 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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