Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Timed For Thanksgiving, White House Releases Report On Economic Impact Of Food Stamps

Administration Officials offer a holiday-themed rebuke for House Republicans' proposal to cut $39 billion from SNAP...
Washington, DC - The White House on Tuesday released a new 11-page report about the economic importance of Food Stamps for both impoverished Americans and the overall economy.  

It features the photo, at top, of President Barack Obama visiting a local food bank, and was timed for a Thanksgiving plucking at the heartstrings of House Republicans, who have proposed slashing $39 billion from what is officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the embattled Farm Bill.

"At a time when people are about to sit around the table with their families to celebrate a meal, it hardly seems the right time to be pulling food off the table for millions of our neighbors," said Gene Sperling, Director of the National Economic Council during a conference call with reporters.

Thanksgiving "makes it a good time to turn attention to the debate" about funding cuts, said Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, on the same conference call.

"How we address these issues says a lot about who we are as a country," Muñoz said. 

But lawmakers from both the House and Senate have already left town for the Thanksgiving recess after failing to come to an agreement on the Farm Bill.  The SNAP debate drove the deal-making off the rails, ending Conference Committee meetings that began on Oct. 30.

Even if the House spending cut had been approved, it would not go into effect until next year.  It's still reprehensible now, said Sperling, who characterized it as "harsh and unacceptable."

"These SNAP cuts proposed in the House of Representatives that would deny 3.8 million Americans next year the ability to help put food on the table for themselves and their family would be harsh and unacceptable at any time, but particularly so as we enter the Thanksgiving and the holiday season," Sperling said.  

SNAP provides more than 47 million Americans with benefits each month, with the monthly federal expenditure more than $6 billion.  It kept more than four million people out of poverty last year, as well as put much-needed money into the economy, according to the White House report.

"SNAP turns out to be one of the best things we can do for our economy," Sperling said, noting that the Congressional Budget Office reported that "every $5 in snap activity generates $9 in activity for the 230,000 retail outlets" that take Food Stamps.

Of the 3.8 million Americans who will be thrown out of the program if the House proposal is approved, an estimated 210,000 will be children, Sperling and Muñoz said.  

They also said the children will lose access to free lunches in the National School Lunch Program, because some schools use what is called Categorical Eligibility, which allows children from SNAP households to automatically qualify for free lunches.  

Neither mentioned that school districts could allow parents to apply separately to enroll their children in the federal lunch program.

While House Republicans have proposed reducing SNAP spending by 5% or roughly $4 billion annually for ten years, the Senate Farm Bill, approved over the summer, includes a cut of about $4 billion for the same time period.  

Neither Sperling nor Muñoz mentioned the Senate cut until a reporter brought it up. 

But then Sperling quickly noted that the Office of Management and Budget issued a statement of administration policy supporting the Senate legislation.

"This administration is generally supportive of the bipartisan compromise that was worked out in the Senate bill. We all need to compromise to move forward," Sperling said.

The White House last week issued a different Farm Bill-themed report, urging swift passage of the legislation.  Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy Sam Kass during a recent speech billed the House SNAP proposal as "unpatriotic," and other Administration officials have been speaking out, too, including Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

President Obama's grass-roots entity, Organizing for Action, on Monday sent an email to supporters urging them to contact House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and protest SNAP cuts.  The email was also tied to Thanksgiving.

President Obama earlier this month declared passing a new Farm Bill his #1 economic priority.

Download the White House report:  Supporting Families, Strengthening Communities: The Economic Importance of Nutrition Assistance {PDF}


*Photo by Pete Souza/White House, taken during the federal government shutdown when President Obama joined furloughed workers volunteering at Martha's Table in DC.