The Ryan Budget and Snapby Representative James P. McGovern
Posted on 2013-03-19
McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, budget resolutions are moral documents.
They lay out a vision of how each party sees the future and where our
priorities should lie. Since this is budget week, the week when we will
vote on a number of different competing visions for America, it is the
right time to talk about the misguided priorities laid out in the
Republican budget as presented by Chairman Paul Ryan.
Once again, Chairman Ryan has proposed a budget that guts low-income programs. The Ryan budget not only does not end hunger now, it actually makes hunger in America worse than it is today.
Simply put, we are currently not doing enough to end hunger now. There are over 50 million hungry Americans in this country; 17 million are kids. Over 47 million rely on SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, to put food on their tables. Without this program, real hunger--the actual absence of food--would be much worse.
The Great Recession is the primary reason hunger is so bad today. Now, don't get me wrong; hunger has been getting worse since the Presidency of Ronald Reagan. We almost eradicated hunger in America in the late 1970s, but hunger has been getting steadily worse in the decades since. But the Great Recession, the worst economic period we've faced since the Great Depression, resulted in millions more hungry people, millions of people who had to turn to SNAP as the safety net that prevented them from going without food altogether.
Recognizing that hunger is a real problem and that we need to end hunger now, I would hope that any budget proposed in this Congress would, at the very least, do no harm to those who are struggling the most in our current economy. Yet the Ryan budget slashes SNAP once again. This should come as no surprise. This is basically the same budget he has introduced over the past few years--and the same budget that voters have rejected over and over again. Yes, Mr. Speaker, this is the same budget that turns Medicare into a voucher, the same budget that repeals the Affordable Care Act, and the same budget that gives even more tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans. And, Mr. Speaker, it's the same budget that turns SNAP into a block grant.
Some of my Republican friends will provide false arguments about what the Ryan budget really does. They'll say that this just gives Governors flexibility, or they're just combating fraud, waste, and abuse. Mr. Speaker, the real goal of the Ryan budget, and of some of my Republican friends who support it, is to end SNAP as we know it.
SNAP is not just a simple antihunger program; it is among the more effective and efficient, if not the most effective and efficient, Federal program. SNAP has a historically low error rate. Trafficking is going down, and prosecutions of SNAP trafficking are clearly visible as USDA works to reduce that problem. SNAP is a countercyclical program. That means that enrollment increases as the economy worsens. It is a true safety net program, and it has a side benefit of being a stimulus program. Every SNAP dollar spent results in another $1.72 in economic activity.
Yes, SNAP can use some improving, but the wholesale and shortsighted changes included in the Ryan budget are not the answer. The Ryan budget actually cuts $135 billion from SNAP over the next 10 years--$135 billion. That's not a haircut; that's a meat-ax. It's an 18 percent cut, a cut that will cause real harm to low-income families who otherwise could not afford food.
The cuts in the Ryan budget will have a real impact on poor Americans and struggling working families because millions of people on SNAP work for a living. They earn so little that they still qualify for Federal assistance. If they apply these cuts solely to eligibility, these cuts would mean that 8 to 9 million people would be cut from SNAP. If these cuts are applied solely to benefits, then all 47 million people on SNAP would see an average cut of $24 per person per month. That adds up to a cut of almost $1,100 per year for a family of four. That may not seem like much to a Congress that has a ton of millionaires, but a $1,100 cut will do real, serious harm to people whose budgets are already stretched to the limit.
Cuts like these are not just misguided, they're cruel. Combined with cuts to other low-income programs that are included in the Ryan budget, these SNAP cuts will absolutely make hunger in America worse. As we consider a budget, at the very least, we should do no harm, but we really should be striving to make every American's life better. That's our job. Cutting SNAP not only doesn't make anybody's life better, it actually does real harm, harm that will manifest in a less educated population, a sicker Nation, and a Nation that ultimately has to spend more on the hungry simply because we decided to bring austerity to a program that doesn't deserve to be cut.
We are a great country, Mr. Speaker. We are great because we have a tradition of caring about the most vulnerable among us. Let us not turn our backs on one of our greatest traditions. This assault on poor people must come to an end. This assault on the hungry, many of whom are kids and senior citizens, must come to an end.
Mr. Speaker, I believe we can end hunger now if we find the political will to do so. The Ryan budget does the opposite. It cuts a vital antihunger program for crass political reasons, an act that makes hunger worse. Let us instead pass a budget that lifts people up, not one that keeps people down.