Farm bill conferees deliberate SNAP as Mathematica, ERS release reports

The Hagstrom Report
September 6, 2018

Read the full article as published on the Fence Post

Congress continued debating the future of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program late Wednesday as Mathematica released a report on the possible impact of the House bill, and the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service released a report showing a slight decline in food insecurity.

Members of the House and Senate farm bill conference committee stuck to previous positions on the House farm bill’s proposed changes to SNAP, including tougher eligibility and work requirements, during a meeting Wednesday, but Politico reported that the leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees intended to meet to discuss a compromise proposal offered by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas.

Mathematica Policy Research said in a report released late Wednesday that about one in 11 households receiving SNAP benefits would lose eligibility if the House farm bill nutrition title were to become law. Using SNAP data from fiscal year 2015, the analysis, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that nearly 2 million participating households would no longer be eligible. Among these households, 34 percent (677,000 households) include seniors, 23 percent (469,000 households) include children, and 11 percent (214,000 households) include those with a disability. Of the households with children losing eligibility, more than half (53 percent) live in poverty.

The impact assessment also found that an estimated 283,000 households would become newly eligible for SNAP under those provisions and choose to participate in the program. Because the number of SNAP-participating households has decreased since 2015, the number of households losing and gaining eligibility would likely be somewhat smaller if the provisions of H.R. 2 were enacted this year, Mathematica said.

Meanwhile, USDA’s ERS reported Wednesday that 11.8 percent of households were food insecure in 2017, including 4.5 percent with very low food security, meaning that at times the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted because the household lacked money and other resources for obtaining food.

ERS noted that compared to 2016 the declines in the rate of food insecurity overall and in very low food security “were statistically significant.” ERS said that the rate of food insecurity declined from 12.3 percent in 2016, and very low food security declined from 4.9 percent, continuing downward trends. Among children, changes from 2016 in food insecurity and very low food security were not statistically significant, ERS said.

About 58 percent of food-insecure households participated in one or more of the three largest Federal food and nutrition assistance programs: SNAP, formerly known as food stamps; Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children; and the National School Lunch Program during the month prior to the 2017 survey.

But the Food Research & Action Center pointed out that the multi-year post-recession decline in food insecurity still leaves the rate higher than before the Great Recession. In 2017, 3.8 million more people lived in food-insecure households than in 2007.

“The food insecurity rate in this country is still far too high, affecting 1 in 8 people and 1 in 6 children. Progress against food insecurity driven by the recession is too little and too slow. It underscores the need for Congress to act to address poverty and hunger, including passage of a farm bill that protects and strengthens SNAP,” said FRAC President Jim Weill. “Without question, deep cuts to SNAP as included in the draconian House bill would make food insecurity far worse for children, seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, working families, and others across the country.”

MAZON: a Jewish Response to Hunger President and CEO Abby Leibman said the report was not to be “celebrated.”

“Despite a modest 0.5 percent decrease from 2016, more than 40 million people still continue to struggle to put enough food on the table each day,” Leibman said.

“We’d expect, given the rhetoric in Washington, D.C., about our nation’s economic boom and low national unemployment rates, that these numbers would be decreasing more significantly each year. Instead, they remain stubbornly elevated.

“This unacceptably high rate of food insecurity is why SNAP remains such a vital program and must be protected and strengthened as Congress negotiates the farm bill,” Leibman concluded.

Hunger Free America CEO Joel Berg said, “The 2017 number reflects a slight dip from 2016, when 41 million Americans struggled against hunger, but is still 11 percent higher than the 36 million level in 2007, just before the recession, and 29 percent higher than the 31 million level in 1999, during the President Bill Clinton-era economic boom.

“We must not accept mass deprivation in the wealthiest nation in world history as any sort of ‘new normal.’ Hunger is unacceptable in any society, but it’s particularly outrageous in the United States, where the 400 richest Americans had a combined net worth of $2.7 trillion in 2017, even before the GOP tax cuts for the wealthy kicked in,” Berg said.