The Case for SNAP

Once rich with manufacturing jobs, Ohio has struggled to build a new economy with good-paying, full-time employment, and too many people are stuck with part-time low-wage work. While most agree this is a grave problem, some, like Rep Jim Jordan, can't connect the dots to understand that it leaves hundreds of thousands of Ohioans without enough to feed their families and pay the rent. Instead of pursuing policies to bring good jobs back to Ohio, Jim Jordan's making it even more difficult for families to get food assistance.

He's not alone in pursuing harsh policies that are out of sync with Americans' economic realities. The recently released Trump administration budget for 2019 would cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by more than $213 billion over the next ten years — nearly a 30 percent cut — by radically restructuring how benefits are delivered, cutting eligibility for at least 4 million people, and reducing benefits for many others. The unemployed, the elderly, and low-income working families with children would bear the brunt of these proposed cuts.

SNAP is the nation’s most important anti-hunger program. Two-thirds of SNAP benefits go to families with children, and most of that goes to families with infants, toddlers, and preschool-age children. Over 80 percent of SNAP families with children have incomes below the poverty line.

Eligibility is already strict, and SNAP is limited to the most extreme cases. To receive benefits, needy families and individuals must have net income at or below the poverty level, and those who aren't raising children are limited to three months of benefits in three years unless they work or train 20 hours per week. Families are expected to contribute 30% of their incomes to food purchases before SNAP, and undocumented immigrants are not eligible for SNAP benefits.

The work requirements already embedded in law would get much, much tighter under so-called “reform” legislation Jim Jordan introduced last July ( H.R.2832). Let’s be clear: his bill would strip many poor families of access to basic food assistance by ratcheting up the law’s work requirements. Think about the irony of Jordan’s insisting on tough work requirements to qualify for help in feeding kids: A Congressman's salary is $174,000 for working three days a week in Washington! On average, an individual’s monthly SNAP benefit in 2017 was $125.79.

Jim Jordan Doesn't Understand Ohio

Jim Jordan wants to increase work requirements unreasonably for families already struggling to make ends meet. Parents with kids would have to work 80-100 hours/month, and those without kids who didn't meet the 20 hours/week requirement would have benefits cut to one month. Jordan also wants to increase state oversight in punishing families, since they will have to make sure 80 percent of all SNAP parents engage in specified work activities. In meeting those percentage targets, states could count families whose benefits it had cut for failing to meet the work requirement (meaning a state could get as much credit for terminating or reducing a family’s benefits as for placing a parent in a work activity).

Jordan’s understanding of his constituents and their economic realities is at best naïve. Consider what he told a conservative news outlet last year:

"What you find is, when work requirements are imposed, that people either go get the skillset they need or they're doing some volunteer work or they're doing some job training — they're helping themselves, bettering themselves. Or what typically happens is they'll just say, 'oh I'll just forego the program altogether and I'll just go get a job, or I'll get a second job.' "

Here’s the reality: over 60% of households with children that receive SNAP benefits are participating in the workforce, and nearly 90% have someone in the workforce in the prior or subsequent year. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found work requirements for people with cash assistance are largely ineffective at reducing poverty or increasing long-term employment.

In Ohio, as described in a recent report by Policy Matters Ohio, a non-profit policy research institute:

“Most households with a working age, able-bodied adult have at least one member who works while receiving SNAP.... Not only do SNAP participants work, they work at our nation’s largest companies. SNAP helps put food on the table for the people who work at these companies and make below 130 percent of poverty, or $26,208 annually for a family of three.”

The problem with SNAP is not that people aren't working — it's that the jobs they have just don't pay enough to put food on the table.

37,079 households in our district receive SNAP support, down from more than 55,000 in 2015. Of that total, 74.4% of those households are in the labor force. The same research institute found that of Ohio’s 13 most common occupations, eight have a median annual salary that would qualify a family of three for food assistance, given a SNAP eligibility threshold of less than 130 percent of the federal poverty line or $26,208 for a family of three annually.

Policies aimed at restricting access to SNAP benefits are not only cruel and destined to fail to increase workforce participation, they fly in the face of research demonstrating the long-term benefits of access to SNAP in childhood. Studies have long shown that SNAP substantially diminishes food insecurity and lifts millions out of poverty. Importantly, new research shows that the program has had long-lasting education and health benefits for children, with substantial increases in high school graduation rates and reduced risk of obesity and other threats to good health. SNAP not only makes a huge difference in families’ economic well-being and health, it’s good for local economies — each dollar in federally funded SNAP benefits generates $1.79 in economic activity.

The Bottom Line

Jim Jordan and the Trump Administration are hawking misguided food-assistance policies, aimed more to cut federal budgets than to make any Americans' lives better. SNAP is a highly effective program that helps hard-working families feed their children, one of the most basic responsibilities of government. There’s no good reason to change its funding structure or eligibility — instead, the program, which is at risk of expiring later this year, should be reauthorized.

Janet GarrettComment