Food stamps not the right target

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: December 11 2013 | 12:01 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 12:42 am in
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Gazette Editorial Board

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Last month, the record 47 million low-income Americans receiving food snaps saw their benefits reduced by an average of about $29 a month for a household of three. It was a scheduled reduction as the 2009 Recovery Actís temporary boost for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) ó part of the government economic stimulus efforts in the recession ó ended.

It means SNAP benefits for everyone in the program will drop to under $1.40 per person per meal in 2014.

SNAP is facing even more changes as Congress this week struggles to pass a new farm and food bill. Food stamps, running at $80 billion per year, account for about 70 percent of the farm billís funding. Earlier this year, the Senate voted to trim $4 billion over 10 years from SNAP funding; the House has voted to lop $40 billion over the same time.

The House version is especially harsh. About 1.7 million unemployed, childless adults and 2.1 million children and adults in mostly low-income working families and low-income seniors would lose their SNAP benefits, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, an organization that analyzes issues impacting middle- and lower-income people. In addition, 210,000 children in these families would also lose free school meals.

Itís no time to make major cuts in the most basic part of the nationís safety net. It wonít fix federal budget problems.

While the economy recovers slowly, pulling food stamps from low-wage workers would create more hardship. The working poor are further disadvantaged by the tax system. When they get a decent raise, they lose food stamps while also paying substantial taxes on the additional wages ó as much as 95 cents on the dollar.

The tax system should be revised to encourage, not discourage, more work earnings before public assistance is phased out. Meanwhile, if a farm bill canít be approved without severe SNAP cuts, Congress should do no harm. Instead, pass an extension and work on a new plan next year.

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