Christian Hazes FOOD POLITICS - September 2018

Oh SNAP! Food Stamps are Under Pressure

Written by Christian Hazes, Staff Writer

It is safe to say that ample initiatives coming from American presidents have miserably failed. Ronald Reagan’s intense acceleration of the War on Drugs, originally commenced by President Nixon, and its devastating impact on incarceration rates and especially the Black community, is probably one of the most fitting epitomes of those unfortunate initiatives.

Sometimes, though, a hidden gem comes to the surface. Unlike several other Wars On something started by the United States, the War on Poverty and particularly its 1961 re-introduced food stamps system received critical acclaim. It was President John F. Kennedy that suggested the food stamps system as a pilot and eventually secured sufficient and healthy nutrition for a staggering number of American families living below the poverty line. Up to this day, a vast amount of Americans continues to rely on what is now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), preventing widespread hunger across the country including all of its disastrous consequences. In 2016, a staggering 45 million Americans benefited from SNAP.

However, if current president Donald Trump has his way, getting food on the table will soon be a difficult task for a large portion of Americans. Envisaged budget cuts for 2019 jeopardize a precious and effective American welfare component, thus leaving many American families in peril.

Trump aims at trimming the SNAP-related spending severely over the next decade. Approximately a quarter of the current program’s funding will have to be cut according to the president. What this boils down to is the fact that a significant number of current SNAP recipients will lose access to this invaluable social safety net. In the case that Trump is able to fulfill his wishes, the aforementioned number of 45 million Americans that participate in SNAP will drastically decline.

Unsurprisingly, SNAP has always been a vexed topic within U.S. politics. The debates on SNAP make a longstanding and notorious schism in American culture come to the surface once again. On one side, liberals laud the bulwark of the American social safety net, emphasizing that the program spares millions of American households from misery. On the other hand, (mostly Republican) conservatives tend to detest the program due to its alleged motivation-stifling nature.

Obviously, every individual is allowed to have a certain ideological preference. But, the primarily positive effects of SNAP cannot be denied. More importantly, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights explicitly guarantees freedom from hunger, thus making access to food a human right.

SNAP’s first and foremost goal, quite evidently, is to reduce food insecurity. In other words, the nutrition assistance aims to prevent having uncertain or insufficient access to food. Research consistently shows that participating in SNAP is accompanied by a decreased risk of food insecurity. What’s more, the height of the sum that participants get plays a huge role: the higher the benefit received, the lower one’s food insecurity risk is.

But SNAP does more than simply put food on the table of the needy; its positive long-term effects are likewise noteworthy. The incidence of babies born underweight – a tragic event that comes with a slew of complications during later stages of life – fell relatively drastically; roughly 10% fewer occurrences were measured after the inception of the food stamps program. Seeing as access to nutrition assistance in early life stages is vital, health problems dawning in adulthood can be circumvented by ensuring access to SNAP in utero and during early childhood.

SNAP’s reach extends to the economic domain as well. The initiative lifts numerous American households out of poverty, as well as many out of deep poverty (those living below half the poverty line). But that’s not everything. Food stamps have become an automatic stabilizer of the American economy. The program stimulates the economy by virtue of a larger enrollment rate when the economy slumps and many families need nutrition aid. On the other hand, when the economy overheats, SNAP participation decreases. Furthermore, essential expenses such as medical bills and rent can be maintained more easily when food is being provided by the government.

Fortunately, SNAP can expect much support in its battle for survival. SNAP is part of the Farm Bill, a bill supporting the demand, thus boosting production, for food. The food industries and agricultural lobby groups would be far from happy with shrinking the size of SNAP. In addition, the vital function of the nutrition assistance as a social safety net is much appreciated by many Americans. Cracking down on the already minimal welfare provisions of the U.S. will not be a very popular decision amongst the needy and the liberal. Cutting back on SNAP expenses will maybe even mean political suicide for Trump; a great deal of states that chose Trump over Clinton have a population that relies heavily on SNAP.

Despite the moderate chances of passing, the attempt to cut back on SNAP funding is worrisome. Concentrating on ambitions, goals, and desires instead of an empty belly is so important in life and many people would not be able to develop that part of themselves without food stamps. SNAP remains, somewhat uniquely, one of the most successful initiatives within the U.S. Cutting back on SNAP would not fix something that is broken, rather, it would break something that actually works.

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