Let’s use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as food stamps, to explain. The $17.4 billion the Trump administration proposes taking from the program in fiscal 2020, and the $220 billion it would cut over the next decade (a cut, by the way, of one-third), will leave many Americans scrambling for a way to feed themselves adequately. And it will, according to an analysis the Center for American Progress provided to The Post, also cost the economy jobs — lots of them. They estimate 200,000 positions in 2020 and as many as 2.8 million job-years over the next decade. (A job-year refers to one year of one full-time job.)
See, SNAP is one of the most effective ways to stimulate the economy we know. The money is spent, and it’s spent almost immediately. A SNAP recipient will almost certainly quickly go to a supermarket or grocery store and use his or her funds on food. Studies show 80 percent of the benefit amount is spent within 14 days. As CAP writes, “This money is pumped into the local economy, helping businesses expand and supporting jobs at local retailers and farms.” (And, no, SNAP users are not buying lobsters and excessive amounts of junk food. They spend their money just like everyone else.)
As a result, SNAP money has a definitive and strong impact on the broader economy. A 2015 study found that during the Great Recession, expanding SNAP benefits was one of the most effective forms of fiscal stimulus the government undertook on a dollar-to-dollar basis.
SNAP’s not the equivalent of giving more money to the rich and hoping it will trickle down. The wealthy, after all, may open their wallets, or they may choose not to do so. They might also spend it in ways that are less than helpful, like bribing a college sports coach to help their child gain access to an elite university. But in the upside-down world that is the Trump administration, it’s the one percent who are celebrated, while millions of less well-off people who are struggling to get by are demonized.
Currently, SNAP eligibility for able-bodied adults (defined as people don’t receive Social Security disability benefits) who lack dependents is limited to three months within a 36-month period. States can receive a waiver, however, if they believe economic conditions justify one. Trump is now trying, through both executive action and now this proposed budget, to tighten the standards for that.
This plays to the prevalent myth that SNAP and other social welfare program recipients are just a bunch of lazy slackers, waiting for a government handout instead of people working hard for their money. This is absolutely untrue. According to a survey released last year by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a majority of all SNAP recipients work, and a very large majority — more than 80 percent — of non-disabled adults in the program receive a paycheck.
All a work requirement will do is put yet one more bureaucratic hurdle in the way of someone who needs SNAP so that person and his of her family can purchase an adequate amount of food. It will result in more hunger, not more workers. “The dirty little secret about so-called work requirements is they don’t actually help anyone work,” says Rebecca Vallas, vice president of CAP’s Poverty to Prosperity Program. “They don’t create a single job or raise anyone’s wages.”
The issue is not unwillingness to work; it’s the quality and consistency of the jobs available to millions of Americans. This is something that should be obvious to all of us, given that we live in a country where almost 40 percent of the population can’t come up with $400 out of their own savings.
There is a better way to save money on SNAP if one really believes the program needs to be cut: raise the minimum wage. According to a CAP analysis, an increase to $12 an hour would save $53 billion in SNAP spending over the next decade. But don’t expect the Trump administration to embrace that solution. Larry Kudlow, Trump’s chief economic adviser, calls even the existence of a federal minimum wage “a terrible idea.” Actually, that’s a kind description of Trump’s plans for SNAP. Here’s hoping they never come to pass.