Kiker: Balancing the budget by cutting entitlements–Part 3: Food Stamps

By Charles Kiker

“Reforming” Social Security and Medicare does not sound nearly as threatening as “cutting benefits.” But be not fooled. “Cutting benefits” is what the “reformers” have in mind.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), popularly known as “Food Stamps”, is a third entitlement program in the cross hairs of the “reformers.” In fact, on November 1st a SNAP provision in the stimulus program expired resulting in a reduction in SNAP benefits.

There is a lot of public antipathy toward SNAP. Recipients are frequently characterized as lazy people, unwilling to work. But what are the facts?

Unemployed SNAP recipients, excepting the elderly and disabled, are required to be either actively seeking work or in some kind of job training program.

There are many working poor who receive SNAP benefits; see the income guidelines below:

Size of household   Maximum Monthly Income        Maximum Annual Income

1                             $1,245.00                                        $14,940.00

2                             $1,681.00                                        $20,172.00

3                             $2,116.00                                        $25.392.00

4                             $2,552.00                                         $30,624.00

(For each additional household member, add $436.00 to maximum monthly income and $5,232.00 to maximum annual income.) (Information from USDA website.)

There has been substantial job growth since 2009, but many of the jobs added have been minimum wage or near minimum wage jobs in the service sector. Let’s do a little math for a minimum wage worker with a household of 3. If he/she works full time at a minimum wage job, 40 hours per week, 52 weeks a year, his/her annual income would be $15,080.  And how many entry level fast food or big box workers work full time? A sad but true fact is that the federal government subsidizes low wage employers by providing assistance to their employees.

We recently celebrated Veterans Day. Another sad fact is that an estimated 900,000 veterans receive SNAP benefits. Many of these are recently discharged veterans, unable to find work when they leave the armed services. Is cutting their benefits an honorable way of honoring them?

Now to personalize and localize this discussion: The unemployment rate in Swisher County for 2012 was 5.7%, well below the national average. Yet Swisher County is a poor county. Almost 77% of the students in TISD are eligible for free or reduced cost lunch. In spite of food stamps teachers and counselors notice that many children come to school hungry on Monday mornings. So there is a weekend “snack pack” program for children identified by teachers and counselors as Monday hungry kids. And the need is increasing. I have been informed that the number of kids in need of a little extra weekend food is dramatically higher this year than last. God bless the snack pack people who are seeking to provide a little weekend nutrition for these Monday hungry kids!

I know that people need to learn how to manage their money better. I know that people need to learn better how to stretch their food money and/or their food stamps. Programs to address these skills would be appropriate for SNAP recipients.

I know that there is some fraud in the SNAP program.  Pray tell me which program, government or private, is completely free of fraud or misuse.

When I was just a little preschool boy there was a heifer in our herd that didn’t have a calf. She got to be a three year old, and still no calf. Daddy butchered her, but he didn’t butcher the whole herd!

I also know that some members of congress who voted to reduce SNAP funding receive agricultural subsidies from USDA. One congressman from Tennessee reportedly has received some $3.5 million over the last ten years. Our own congressman, Mack Thornberry, received a much more modest amount; ditto for congressman Randy Neugebauer from Lubbock.

Hunger is real in the United States of America. Hunger is real in Swisher County. Let’s do nothing to exacerbate that hunger and everything we can to alleviate it.

For I was hungry, and you fed me.” (Jesus)