Last week, the Trump administration released its budget request for fiscal year 2018, which included disastrous cuts to dozens of programs that provide a basic living standard to millions of families across the country. One of the most egregious cuts is to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps), consisting of an alarming reduction of more than $190 billion over 10 years. This proposal would decimate this critical program, which has made excellent strides in alleviating hunger in the U.S. since its creation.
In the Fight Against Hunger, SNAP Works
When people think about the issue of hunger and food insecurity, they have a hard time recognizing that this is an issue that affects people in the U.S. But it absolutely does: in FY 2016, 42.2 million Americans lived in food insecure households, including 13.1 million children, meaning they lacked access to nutritious, sufficient food on a regular basis. Food insecurity and hunger have proven to have negative outcomes for those who experience it, from lower academic achievement for children to increased risk of heart attack and diabetes for seniors. Nutrition assistance programs—especially SNAP, which is the largest—play an essential role in combating hunger and food insecurity, helping millions of low-income families put food on the table every month. SNAP is especially important for women and children; the majority of adult SNAP recipients are women, and more than 90 percent of SNAP single-parent households with children are headed by women. SNAP isn’t counted as income when the government measures poverty rates—but if it were, SNAP would have lifted the incomes of more than 3.3 million people above the poverty line in 2015, including nearly 1.2 million adult women and nearly 1.4 million children. In a time when housing and child care costs are through the roof for many Americans, the SNAP program ensures that food is accessible in times of unexpected hardship. With the availability of SNAP, families can rest assured that a medical emergency or a costly car repair won’t eat into their grocery budget; however with Trump’s proposed changes, this may not be the case anymore.
Forces States to Cut Families from SNAP or Cut Their Benefits – or Both
The Trump budget’s biggest and most damning change to SNAP is its proposal to slash federal funding for the program by 25 percent by 2023, shifting over $100 billion of the program’s costs to states. With significantly less federal funding available, states would likely cut benefits for some families and cut off benefits entirely for others to offset the costs of the program. Trump claims that this change would “increase state incentives to create economic paths to self-sufficiency,” but in reality what it would do is ensure that much-needed benefits are taken away from low-income families when states are unable (or unwilling) to cover the costs. This type of structural change would strip the program of its ability to carry out the fundamental function of reducing hunger and poverty, something it has done very well.
Limit Food Assistance to Unemployed Adults
In addition, Trump would limit the use of waivers that allow states to provide SNAP benefits to some low-income childless adults who are not currently working. In the budget, Trump states that this reform will “encourage those individuals dependent on the Government to return to the workforce,” which paints a distorted picture of SNAP recipients as lazy and nonworking when that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In actuality, nearly two-thirds of SNAP recipients are children, seniors and people with disabilities who are not expected to work—and most SNAP recipients who can work, do so. Of households that include childless adults who are capable of working, over 75 percent had a job in the year before or after receiving SNAP in 2016. Furthermore, studies show that most people subject to work requirements in public assistance programs remain poor, and some become poorer.
But Wait, There’s More
The damage doesn’t stop there. Trump’s plan for SNAP would also:
- Discourage retailers from accepting SNAP benefits. The budget request would charge a new application fee—ranging from $250 to $20,000, depending on the size of the retailer—for authorization (or reauthorization) to accept SNAP benefits. This could especially hurt families in underserved rural and urban “food deserts,” where there are few grocery stores to begin with and likely even fewer willing to pay to participate in SNAP.
- Take away benefits from many seniors and people with disabilities. It would eliminate the minimum benefit of $16 a month for households with just one or two people, which typically goes to seniors and people with disabilities. While $16 may not seem like much, for people with little to no source of income, it could mean the difference between some food and no food at all.
- Punish working families. The proposal would require states to cut off assistance to working families with incomes over 130 percent of poverty—families who are still struggling to meet tremendous costs for housing and child care and often have very little money left over for food.
- Punish larger families. The budget proposes to cap supplementary benefits for larger families of six or more that typically contain several children, grandparents and other family members.
The Bottom Line
So in sum, Trump wants to take food away from people—period. If it seems harsh, it’s because it is. If it seems cruel, it’s because it will be. Devastating changes like the one Trump proposes are not and will never be a solution. Despite Trump’s claims that the proposed SNAP cuts “encourag[e] work and responsibility,” all his budget does is let women, men and children go hungry. Perhaps instead of cutting spending on an effective program, the budget could continue funding programs that help low-income people while also investing more in education and job training. But the notion of actually offering support in times of economic hardship and providing people with a basic living standard sounds too much like right and judging by the countless other cuts to programs that support women, families, and children, that may be off brand for the Trump administration.