Sunday, May 8, 2011

It's Not Just Medicare: GOP Wants to Privatize Food Stamps, Too

It's Not Just Medicare: GOP Wants to Privatize Food Stamps, Too

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When it comes to criticizing the House Republican budget plan, some big-ticket problems are rather obvious. For example, the GOP wants to eliminate Medicare and gut Medicaid -- ideas that the American mainstream doesn't like.

And as far as the politics of this are concerned, it makes sense for Democrats to pick a small handful of glaring and scandalous priorities in the Republican plan, and focus their fire accordingly. But when it comes to appreciating the larger policy, it's worth keeping in mind that Medicare isn't the only concern here.

Jonathan Cohn is putting together a series on some of the other, lesser-known problems with the GOP budget agenda, and today focuses on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a.k.a. the program formerly known as food stamps.

The Republican plan for SNAP looks an awful lot like the Republican plan for Medicaid: end the guaranteed benefit for low-income families, scrap the automatic raises during economic down times, and send the states a block grant -- which would, of course, include a big cut to the program itself.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, if the states decided to react primarily by thinning the benefits for everybody, the maximum benefit would equal 88 percent of the "Thrifty Food Plan" -- the government's estimate of what a typical family would need to pay for a "bare-bones, nutritionally adequate diet." In 2012, a family of three would lose $116 a month, while a family of four would lose $147 a month.

If, instead, the government implemented the cut entirely by reducing eligibility for the program, SNAP would serve 8 million fewer people over the next ten years. [...]

And what's the rationale for this cut? Republicans and their supporters say the program's spending has gotten "out of control" and warn that it's fostering a culture of dependency, just like the old welfare system did. But the evidence for this is pretty thin. [...]

Fraud and waste aren't issues, either. Last year the General Accounting Office found that program errors, which include underpayment of benefits as well as overpayments, were less than 4 percent. And "trafficking"--that is, the illegal trade of food stamps for other goods or money -- had fallen to less than one cent on the dollar. Both were record lows.

Also note the larger context: food stamps are one of the single most effective forms of government stimulus, and Republicans want to cut them, and instead cut taxes for the wealthy, which is one of the least effective forms of stimulus.

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