Last week the House Agriculture Committee approved a Farm Bill that included $16.5 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps) – a choice that could force as many as 3 million more Americans deeper into poverty and threaten the economic recovery. The cut, nearly four times larger than the cuts found in the Senate version of the bill, specifically targets SNAP benefits for working poor families with children and seniors.
The House Agriculture Committee bill cut all agricultural programs by $35 billion over the next decade, but the bulk of the cuts come from SNAP, a full $11.5 billion from eliminating a provision in SNAP known as categorical eligibility. Cat-el is an “administrative short-cut” that allows states to coordinate income and asset tests for SNAP with other programs that help low-income families. Cat-el doesn’t allow families to automatically enroll in SNAP – they still have to go through the rigorous verification and application process – but it does mean that what counts for income and assets in Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, the state’s welfare program, counts as income and assets in SNAP. In Colorado, for instance, before the state adopted cat-el, a family would have been denied SNAP if they had some non-exempt asset worth more than $2,000, but they would not have been denied help through TANF. By adopting cat-el, Colorado aligned program rules, reduced administrative costs and allowed newly poor families or families with modest assets to receive vital nutrition assistance.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that eliminating cat-el will deny food assistance to 1.8 million low-income children, seniors and people with disabilities nationwide. The Office of Management and Budget puts the number at closer to 3 million nationally and 34,500 in Colorado.
So what does eliminating cat-el really mean for Colorado? Never mind that SNAP helps 22 million American children eat nutritious food every day, which helps their brains and bodies grow, which in turn helps them learn, earn and achieve over a lifetime. Never mind that SNAP kept more than 5 million people out of poverty in 2010 and protected more than 1.3 million children from the long-lasting and devastating effects of deep poverty. Never mind that SNAP has been found to be one of the government’s most efficient programsone that responds quickly and effectively in recessions and disasters, like Colorado’s recent wildfires for instance.
Let’s set all that social benefit aside and talk dollars and cents. Last year, SNAP provided about $140 per person per month in Colorado. All total, SNAP families spent $762.8 million federal dollars at Colorado grocery stores, farmers markets, convenience stores, wholesalers and other retail outlets on food alone – SNAP cannot be used to purchase nonfood items like diapers, toothpaste, cigarettes or alcohol. Moody’s Analytics estimates that every $1 in SNAP spending generates $1.73 in economic activity. That means SNAP benefits produced nearly $1.3 billion in economic activity in every corner of our state last year. Now consider that every $1 billion in SNAP demand translates to between 8,900 to 17,900 jobs. That’s a lot of Colorado farmers, truckers, grocery clerks, stockers and others along the private food supply chain who benefit from SNAP.
So when those 34,500 low-income adults and children lose SNAP, Colorado loses roughly $58 million per year spent on food in every corner of Colorado and a total of $100 million in economic activity. In other words, when those 34,500 hungry people lose SNAP, we all lose.
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