With the federal debt and deficit reaching astronomical levels and the still-struggling economy hurting tax revenue everywhere, many people will point to SNAP benefits and scream for cuts.
In fact, the Senate on Thursday voted to approve a farm bill that would take away $4.5 billion of SNAP funding over the next decade — with Sen. Jeff Sessions leading the charge. It's not a huge cut for the program, which has a yearly budget of around $80 billion. But remember we're talking about a measure from the Democrat-controlled Senate. Imagine what the Republican leadership in the House will call for.
When folks criticize programs like SNAP, they often do it by reaching back to the old anecdotes of welfare queens living high on the hog with taxpayer money.
A bit of advice to Alabamians: If you frame the debate in those terms, be careful not to do it in a crowded room.
According to USDA data, the average monthly participation rate for SNAP benefits in Alabama swelled from 545,955 in 2007 to 920,365 in 2011. If you look at SNAP participation rates for 2010 (805,095 for Alabama and 40,301,878 for the United States) and compare it to Census numbers, 17 percent of the state’s population receive food stamps. That’s compared to 10 percent nationwide.
According to the 2009 figures released by the Food Research and Action Center, 8,799 Walker County residents participated in the SNAP program, representing about 13 percent of our population. And a full 16,323 Walker County residents are eligible for the benefits program (or entitlement program if you prefer), that’s about 24 percent of our population.
When we’re talking nearly one fifth of the state’s population, that welfare queen a person complains about could likely be his own family member, co-worker or friend.
A recent Florida law requiring drug tests for state benefits proved a similar point. Its sponsors said the legislation would save taxpayers money and decrease drug-use. The measure was in effect for four months before it was challenged in court. In those four months, Florida officials found 2.6 percent of those receiving the benefits failed a drug test. And because the state had to reimburse those who passed, it wound up costing Florida taxpayers an extra $45,000 — with no significant decrease in applicants.
As beneficial as food stamps are to Americans, the program is in need of reform. Like most federal endeavors, there is likely rampant bureaucracy and duplication of duties. Streamlining the program is where gains can be made. But if legislators make across-the-board cuts, we will end up paying for it anyway — in this life or the next.
- Daily Mountain Eagle