The Friday, Nov.1, 2013 edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an op-ed by Foundation Vice President Benita Dodd on rollbacks in benefits for food stamp recipients, entitled, “No Grandstanding, End the Spending.”
By Benita M. Dodd
The numbers certainly are a cause for concern. The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as the food stamp program, reached nearly 14 percent of U.S. households in 2012. That’s up from 8.6 percent in 2008, at the height of the economic recession. Today, about 48 million Americans rely on the taxpayer-funded program, to the tune of $78 billion a year.
In metro Atlanta, households receiving SNAP benefits have doubled from 7 percent to more than 14 percent; about 60 percent of those have children. A sampling across Georgia shows an alarming increase in recipients: Macon households receiving benefits went from 15 percent in 2008 to 23 percent in 2012; Albany went from 17 percent to 24 percent; Valdosta went from 11 percent to 21.5 percent and Rome went from 11 percent to 20 percent of households.
With today’s rollback in benefits, a family of four will see maximum payment shrink from $668 a month to $632 – a reduction of $432 over a year. The growing outcry over the rollback comes as no surprise; nobody wants low-income families, children or the elderly to go hungry. But the rollback has been three years coming; the temporary increase was part of President Obama’s federal stimulus bill, which expanded the program by relaxing requirements and increased benefits by 13.6 percent.
This restoration of benefits to their original status should not deteriorate into a political blame game. Both sides of the aisle have acknowledged the need to cut government spending: In June, the Democrat-led Senate approved legislation that included $4.5 billion in SNAP cuts. The Republican-led House last month approved a bill that would cut funding for SNAP by $40 billion over 10 years.
The political grandstanding over the program, unfortunately, is a distraction from the real issue: that there are too many politicians willing to get and keep Americans increasingly dependent on government. The growth in this government benefit has increased even as the economy improves.
The success of a program intended to help low-income individuals should be measured by how many of these individuals are lifted out of poverty. Instead, this program’s success is being measured by how many people government manages to attract and support. Meanwhile, the potential for fraud and abuse is rife, as numerous studies and news reports show. An Associated Press photograph recently showed a SNAP recipient in her kitchen; the bottles of wine and candles lined up behind her were enough to sour even the most compassionate of hardworking taxpayers who must fund the program. Nobody begrudges her a glass of wine, but the idea that I am forced to pay for her children’s groceries while she spends her money on bottles of wine does not sit well.
The good intentions of program supporters do not cancel out the need for individuals to escape poverty through jobs and economic opportunity. Unless and until Congress cuts back on spending and reaching into hardworking taxpayers’ pockets to fund dependency, the opportunity for economic growth that creates jobs in the private sector will not occur. Until and unless Congress acts to relieve the overbearing regulatory burdens, mandates and costs that are being imposed on businesses in this country, the kinds of jobs that can advance Americans out of poverty will not be created.
Washington needs to end the bickering over how many fish to feed the five thousand and step back so that the five thousand learn how to feed themselves the traditional American way – through a work ethic. .
Benita M. Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.