Debate Forum 11/12

Debate Forum 11/12

Debate Center: Stimulus rollback has created a food stamp fight

 By Alex Culpepper

 
Illustration: Signe Wilkinson

As part of the federal stimulus package in 2009, Congress voted to increase benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, as a measure to fight recession. As of Nov. 1 of this year, those extra benefits expired and were cut to their pre-2009 levels, and now those Americans who use SNAP will see fewer benefits. For a family of four, that amounts to about $430 per year. These reductions will seek to reduce federal government spending by about $17 billion dollars over the next three years.

SNAP is considered an important support system for low-income Americans. It is the largest nutrition assistance program provided by the federal government and, at last count, it makes up two percent of the federal budget, or about $80 billion per year. The Congressional Budget Office cites the following about SNAP: Recipients have increased from 26 million in 2007 to the current number of 47 million, about 1 in 7 people; the average monthly individual payout was $134 in 2011, and a family of four received about $278; and nearly one half of all adults under age 65 will have used SNAP sometime in their lives. Here in Ohio, people must work or be receiving job training for 20 hours per week to receive benefits. Nationally, however, about half the people receiving SNAP are employed according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

Opponents of benefit cuts cry foul over what they see as making those most economically vulnerable do with less. They say cuts create further suffering on the primary recipients of SNAP: children, seniors and those with disabilities. They say this will simply make poor people poorer and tax food banks already reeling from increased demand. Opponents also say this move is bad economics and yanks hundreds of millions of dollars from state economies. This cut in revenue, they argue, negatively affects consumers, suppliers and everyone in between. They further note Congress failed to work together and keep the country running, but had no problem letting these cuts happen while they retained full pay.

Supporters say these reductions in benefits are not really cuts because the increase in 2009 was part of the stimulus and was temporary, like the payroll tax holiday. Besides, they say, the deficit needs to be reduced, and cuts must be made. They also say the government spends more than $900 billion on other welfare programs providing cash, food, housing and services for low-income people, so the “cut” in food stamps is a minor adjustment at most. They also state the eligibility requirements are too broad, and the rollback will help combat fraud and abuse in the system.

More cuts may be coming, because the Nov. 1 stimulus expiration is a separate measure from the Federal Farm Bill renewal still being drawn up. That bill could kick in further SNAP cuts to the tune of $39 billion over 10 years in the House version and $4 billion in the Senate version. Opponents of cuts say reductions are already unfair, unnecessary and bad economics. Cut supporters claim the rollback is a needed step toward larger welfare reform and will control a program that runs up high costs, is wasteful and provides no real long-term help.

Reach DCP forum moderator Alex Culpepper at AlexCulpepper@DaytonCityPaper.com

 

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

 

On Nov. 1 as part of an effort to cut the federal deficit, federal stimulus spending expired
resulting in $4.5 billion in food stamp cuts reducing benefits for 47 million Americans
and taking with it hundreds of millions of dollars from state economies.
Should federal budget deficit cuts include cuts to food stamp benefits?

 

Debate Left: CRAP cuts

By Ben Tomkins

 Reducing the deficit is one of the largest problems facing our country today. As a result of the Bush-era tax cuts, multiple wars waged across the Middle East for far too long and a mortgage crisis resulting from a grotesque and willful lack of oversight of the industry, our government – rather, “we” – are facing a future of extreme debt requiring nebulous, long-term recovery.

If we are going to have any prayer of return to the Clinton-era economic utopia full of unicorns bounding through fields of surplus cash and stable, consistent economic growth, cuts will obviously have to be made. Seeing how it was poor people who were irresponsibly being granted home loans with no money down and at variable interest rates by unscrupulous mortgage companies at the encouragement of Junior’s laissez faire “administration,” it stands to reason that we should cut their SNAP benefits as penance for boning the rich and ruining the steady stream of profits and tax cuts they were enjoying.

Besides, we already had a food subsidy program in place that was, and is, working perfectly well to reduce the deficit and unemployment. It’s called McDonald’s, and until we started shoving fruits and vegetables down the gullets of the impoverished by raising SNAP funding a few years ago, it was doing a terrific job of reducing both of those problems by killing off unemployed poor people left, right and center. Unless we’re talking politically, of course. Then it was mostly just left.

Of course, had our deficit not been reduced by about $400 billion dollars and the tax rate on the wealthy increased to 39.6 percent, I might have left this alone entirely. However, given those two facts, I think it would have been responsible to allow those benefits to continue at least until next May so we can get a sense of our fiscal situation and how necessary this cut actually is. If the rich can wait until April 15 for a tax increase, the poor should be extended the same courtesy. I can’t say for sure, but my gut is telling me that the $4.5 billion dollar cut to the SNAP program will be … somewhat mitigated.

I don’t deny that it’s easy to sit back sipping my coffee and complain about the SNAP benefits cut when I’m not the one who has to actually balance the budget. I get it. Politics is about compromise, and compromise is about everyone feeling slightly screwed instead of slightly happy about their victory because negativity and bitching are the nature of the human condition. However, what is undeniable is the fact that tax increases on the wealthy don’t take food out of their kids’ mouths. There is a level of difference between subsistence and subsistence in Cozumel without your little paper umbrella to keep one of your ice cubes from dissolving into your margarita too fast.

Yes, you can point the finger of economic status at parents with substance abuse problems, apathy, a lack of education or whatever. In some cases it’s true. I work with quite a few impoverished families – some extremely so – and in many instances, economic success is greatly impacted by drugs, alcohol, a lack of education and, in some cases, I’ll even admit apathy. Nobody wants to give money to people who don’t help themselves, and for families who are struggling through no fault of their own, I don’t think there’s much of an issue for even the hardest right-wingers. Psychologically, most of us are hard-wired to help out our fellow man if there’s an honest need.

As for the people who are digging their own grave, I can understand the animosity. It’s even more difficult to argue when many of them are the same people who are actively trying to defraud a system that’s already in place for their benefit. I don’t like that any more than anyone else.

Ultimately, for me, that’s not really the point. SNAP is about putting food into the mouths of their children. I see hungry kids every day when I go to work. I see families where the parents have substance abuse problems that take food out of their kids’ stomachs. It is disgusting and reprehensible, but it doesn’t change the fact that these children exist and are in this condition through no fault of their own. What are you going to do? Tell them to get a job? Emancipate themselves at the age of nine and go sell pencils from a cup so one day they can hope to invest in Pfizer and make their million bucks? Call it welfare, socialism or whatever else is the popular FoxNews idiom of the day, but the SNAP program puts money into the hands of parents that is controlled to the best of our ability to be used for food and other necessities for those kids.

I remember quite a few years ago hearing the quote that “kids get what they need” because human beings in our country will always err on the side of caution with those who cannot protect themselves. Well, when we talk about spending cuts, I have noticed that the vast majority of opponents to welfare spend their time railing against unfit and lazy parents who abuse “the system” to steal from the rich. Try this next time: as soon as you see them start to crank up, talk about children and see what happens to their face.

 

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist, and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colo. He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of the issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

 

Debate Right: We’re running out of other people’s money

 By David H. Landon

 
 The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which was formerly called The Food Stamp Program, was designed to ensure that Americans without the ability to provide for themselves are able to receive basic nutrition. Food stamp spending has roughly doubled in the past four years, and part of this is clearly due to the recession. But not all of the increase can be so explained. There are now 47 million Americans receiving food stamps, up from 26 million when Obama took office. As part of the Obama federal stimulus package of 2009, the amount of payments to recipients were also increased. On Nov. 1, there was an 8 percent reduction in SNAP benefits as the spending on the program returned to the pre-2009 levels. The question before us today is whether or not that reduction is fair.

Our national economy remains in crisis, now five years after the beginning of the “Great Recession.” In large part, the economy continues to limp along with only anemic growth, due to our inability to curb the appetite of the federal government for spending money it doesn’t have. In 2013, federal spending approached $3.5 trillion and the deficit dropped to an estimated $642 billion. Deficits fell marginally in 2013 because President Obama and the Democratic Senate held the government hostage last December when it insisted upon raising taxes on all Americans. In the alternative, they were prepared to allow the U.S. to go over the proverbial “fiscal cliff.”  The deficit also benefited from spending cuts from sequestration and spending caps under the Budget Control Act of 2011, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2013.

The president and some in Congress are using this small improvement in the amount of the nation’s deficit to avoid further budget tightening. This is the wrong conclusion to draw and will prolong the sputtering of the national economy. After four years of trillion-dollar plus deficits, the national debt will still reach nearly $17 trillion and exceed 100 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) at the end of the year. That’s a fiscal policy that is unsustainable going forward. To paraphrase Lady Maggie Thatcher, pretty soon we will run out of other people’s money.

Current projections for the nation’s long-term spending put the economy on course for disaster. We simply cannot maintain this course of over-spending. Since 2002, our total spending has exploded by 40 percent, even after accounting for inflation. There are some federal programs that have grown far in excess of 40 percent during that time. Defense, often the whipping boy of the left, is the one program that has been slashed. To a small degree the Budget Control Act of 2011 and sequestration are modestly restraining the discretionary budget. On the other hand, mandatory spending – which includes entitlements – continues growing at an unsustainable pace. Within the next decade, unless additional cuts are made, mandatory spending, including net interest, will consume three-fourths of the budget.

This is a dire situation. Total federal spending will grow by 69 percent over the next 10 years, even with sequestration cuts. Without sequestration it would grow by 74 percent. In that same ten years, total annual spending will increase by $2.4 trillion, growing from $3.5 trillion in 2013 to $5.9 trillion.

There is clearly a need for nutritional assistance by many Americans, but we’ve lost the concept of what the program should accomplish, as well as who should be eligible for the program. The Obama administration is so determined to increase the number of recipients that it gives incentives to states to increase their SNAP numbers. There are advertisements on television urging people to sign up. There are calculated schemes advanced for allowing people to get around the “means test” in order to qualify them for the program. All of these efforts to increase the size of the class dependent upon the program are calculated by the Obama administration.

One of the changes in eligibility requirements is “broad-based categorical eligibility.” Under this type of eligibility, an individual who receives any service under another welfare program, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) can be deemed eligible for food stamps. A full 50 percent of all food stamp recipients now enroll in the program through this broad-based categorical eligibility procedure. This process makes the means testing irrelevant.

In states using this loophole, a middle-class family with one earner who becomes unemployed for one or two months can receive $668 per month in food stamps, even if the family has thousands of dollars in cash reserves sitting in the bank. While a helpful bonus to the family of the unemployed worker, it isn’t necessary for their nutritional health and is not the purpose of the SNAP program. Because of this, the food stamp program has been transformed from a program for the truly needy to a routine bonus payment stacked on top of conventional unemployment benefits.

How do we tell those truly in need that we need to cut their benefits by 8 percent? While it’s not pleasant to always be the one saying we need to tighten our collective belts, for the long-term financial health of the nation, it’s a decision that has to be made. Everyone is going to feel some pain if we finally face the critical need to stop spending money we don’t have.

David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at DaveLandon@DaytonCityPaper.com.

 

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