The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) may not necessarily be a household name, but the program has been critical in boosting food security and alleviating poverty in Nevada and across the nation. Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP provided $630 million in food assistance to a monthly average of 439,782 Nevadans according to 2016 USDA data. But if President Donald Trump and House Republicans succeed in passing HR 2, these numbers may drop dramatically.
What’s at stake with this bill, and why does it matter to us? Here’s what you need to know about this program and its role in the nation’s anti-poverty social safety net.
Who does SNAP help, and why does that matter?
Earlier this month, Donald Trump claimed that “people are taking advantage of the system and other people aren’t receiving what they need to live.” Over the years, this has become a consistent right-wing argument against social safety net programs like SNAP: the notion that “the person who is not working at all and has no intention of working at all is making more money and doing better than the person that’s working his and her ass off.”
But do Trump’s accusations of SNAP abuse have any merit? According to new analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), Trump’s assertions couldn’t be further from the truth. Echoing the argument our own Charles Loomis has previously made here, CBPP Vice President for Food Assistance Policy Stacy Dean countered, “Millions on the program earn too little, and SNAP supports their wages. SNAP also helps people who are in between jobs, and these workers also tend to be low-wage workers […] SNAP tends to be a form of unemployment insurance for them.”
According to 2016 USDA data, over 80% of Nevada households receiving SNAP benefits have at least one person in the workforce. In addition, about half of households receiving SNAP benefits have children under 18, and about 40% of these households include people with disabilities. In recent years some 70% of SNAP eligible working families have participated in work support programs, which is much higher than the 43% who participated in work support programs when the federal government began to reform the SNAP program in 2002. And despite the occasional grumblings from the Trump administration, all relevant evidence points to SNAP as an effective way to reduce food insecurity and keep the most vulnerable Americans out of extreme poverty.
What changed with SNAP, and who’s seeking to undo these changes?
Not only was workforce participation lower in 2002, but so was SNAP participation. One of the side effects of the bipartisan welfare reform legislation that then President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996 was a precipitous drop in SNAP enrollment, as states began to implement monthly reporting requirements that amounted to a huge paperwork burden that proved too onerous for states and too burdensome for eligible working poor households. SNAP began to change in 2002, starting with dropping the monthly reporting requirements, in order to reverse that trend and ensure that those who needed food assistance got it.
If it becomes law, HR 2 (also known as the House Farm Bill) would reverse these reforms and force states to subject some 7 million SNAP beneficiaries nationally to monthly income and asset reporting requirements. In addition the bill imposes new penalties on people who don’t meet monthly work requirements, including those who have no control over their work schedules. States would have to direct more staff to track these monthly reports, as current law requires work and income reports every six months, and already demands that beneficiaries report substantial life changes sooner. On top of all that, HR 2 would enact an overall $213 billion (or 30%) cut to the SNAP program.
So what’s the problem here? For CBPP Senior Fellow Dottie Rosenbaum, it’s a lose-lose situation that results in higher administrative costs for states and fewer people covered by the program. “The effects of these changes would be to increase state costs and make SNAP more burdensome for those eligible. This would undo 20 years of progress in making SNAP more accessible.” Rosenbaum continued, “Reversing this progress, as the House bill seeks to do, would undermine SNAP’s effectiveness as a work support program.”
Why does this matter to Nevada?
So what does this mean for us? From 2002 to 2015, the USDA estimated that Nevada’s share of SNAP eligible individuals in working households who actually receive benefits rose from 24% all the way to 77%. At the same time, overall SNAP participation among eligible individuals rose from 41% to 81% over the same 13 year period. And according to the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, the State of Nevada is expected to receive over $627 million in SNAP funding during the 2017-2019 biennium.
If HR 2 becomes law, that could all change. The state would be required to administer and track monthly reports on beneficiaries, and the state would have to develop a new job training program for as many as 90,000 SNAP beneficiaries who wouldn’t meet monthly work requirements, but the state wouldn’t receive enough federal funding to cover these new expenses. As a result, Nevada would have to spend more to serve fewer people, leaving those kicked off SNAP program at the mercy of private charities that aren’t equipped to serve such high demand.
If the House passes its version of the Farm Bill, all eyes will turn to the Senate to see what they do next. In 2012, Senator Dean Heller (R) voted to advance legislation to cap annual SNAP expenses and convert the program from a need-based system into fixed block grants to states. Thus far Heller hasn’t commented on the House bill, and he may essentially be saved by the bell if Senators Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) come through on their own Farm Bill that will not include the SNAP cuts that are currently in HR 2.
But if President Trump follows through on his promise to veto any Farm Bill that does not look like HR 2, then Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Carson City) will be caught between the President’s wants and the state’s needs. And if that happens, they and the rest of Congress will have to decide how far they’re willing to go to please a President hellbent on disrupting not just America’s political system, but also its safety net and commitment to keep people out of dire poverty.