There’s a lot wrong with Republican Paul Ryan’s 2012 federal budget proposal, but one of its most heinous ideas is turning the federal food stamp program over to cash-strapped states.
That just won’t do.
Today, when states receive federal dollars for nutritional assistance those dollars can only go to that service. Ditto for low-income housing, home heating assistance, job training and school lunch programs.
Under proposed block-grant programs, however, federal funds would flow to states with few, if any, strings attached. A state could take all the fed’s money and use it to offset tax cuts to the rich, or build a golf course. Or whatever.
If nutritional programs are left to the states it’s easy to predict who’ll win and that women, in particular, will lose out.
The children who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are roughly 50-50 boys and girls–not that there’s anything to celebrate in gender-equitable child hunger. Among adults, however, women dominate: 65 percent of SNAP participants are women.
There are 9.3 million non-elderly female adults helped by SNAP, compared to 5.3 million non-elderly male adults. Fully twice as many elderly women are in the program: 1.8 million compared to 0.9 million elderly men.
Households with children receive 76 percent of all benefits, and of these 33 percent are headed by a single parent. You can guess the sex of the vast majority of them. That’s right, women.
Food Assistance Up
The number of households receiving food assistance is up 45 percent over 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the program.
In March, nearly 15 percent of Americans participated in SNAP. A staggering 44 million people rely on this federally-funded program to feed themselves and their families.
The average monthly food stamps benefit is $284.73, down by $5 from last year. And food prices are rising. The Department of Agriculture projects food cost increases of between 3 and 4 percent during 2011. That’s over $9, or three gallons of milk a child won’t drink each month.
Another provision in the Ryan budget proposal eliminates the Workforce Investment Act, which funds 3,000 national job training centers serving over 8 million Americans a year.
This creates a Catch-22 for the millions out of work: You can only get food assistance if you are in a job training program, but whoops, there are no job training programs!
Ryan’s plan would convert monies currently dedicated to food assistance to block grants to the states, which could direct these funds to nutrition programs…or not.
Converting targeted grants to block grants–the fiscal policy backbone of President Ronald Reagan’s savaging of public programs–essentially wipes out the nation’s ability to target dollars to areas of critical need, such as food.
Disconnecting federal funds from specific state programs creates a host of expensive administrative problems as well.
Today, state programs follow rules and procedures established at the federal level. Changing over to block grants will require inventing 50 new wheels as once national programs devolve to the states.
Attacks on federal programs often invoke excess bureaucracy and red tape as a rationale for cutting. In this case, the cure is likely to be worse than the disease.
Proposed reductions in spending aimed specifically at nutrition assistance are part of social conservatives’ overall push to shrink government or “starve the beast.” But this plan actually starves real people and pushes the country backward, to a base and brutal have-and-have-not scenario.