With food insecurity rising in US, SNAP benefits should be left alone

Sep 12, 2012
In a time of record-high food insecurity rates in the US, cutting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (the former Food Stamp Program) is the wrong approach to fighting hunger, says Craig Gundersen, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics at Illinois. Credit: L. Brian Stauffer

In a time of record-high food insecurity rates in the U.S., cutting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (the former Food Stamp Program) is the wrong approach to fighting hunger, says a University of Illinois economist who studies the efficacy of food assistance programs on public health.

Whether it's some Republicans who have proposed modifying funding, or some Democrats who have proposed restricting what kind of food beneficiaries are allowed to buy, restructuring SNAP would likely only lead to more , says Craig Gundersen, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics at Illinois.

"Food insecurity continues to be a serious problem in the U.S.," said Gundersen, who also is the executive director of the National Soybean Research Laboratory at Illinois. "So it is especially important that we have SNAP, which is an effective weapon in fighting hunger. Not many federal programs have been as successful as SNAP has been, and its effectiveness has been demonstrated again and again in numerous studies."

But both Republicans and Democrats have proposed cuts to SNAP, Gundersen says. Some Republicans also have suggested the idea of changing the funding structure of SNAP into a block-grant program in which each state receives a fixed sum of money.

"That has its advantages – states can construct their program any way that they wish," he said. "But the big problem is that during bad economic times, that pool of money doesn't increase, which destroys the entitlement structure of the program. In the past, programs that have been block-granted are less likely to see increases in bad ."

Some Democrats also have threatened the program in other ways by proposing limits on what types of food beneficiaries could purchase.

A recent proposal in New York City, for example, prohibited participants from buying with SNAP benefits – an idea that the Obama administration ultimately quashed, Gundersen says.

"Telling participants that they could purchase this but couldn't purchase that – well, we know from numerous studies that when you restrict benefits in any way, fewer people participate," he said. "With any sort of program, if you restrict choice, people quit. Nobody tells you how to spend your mortgage tax deduction; why would we dictate to someone who is hungry what they can or can't eat? Ultimately, it discourages participation in SNAP, and what that means is that millions more adults and children become food insecure."

As long as it's still an entitlement program, the main driver for SNAP is the state of the economy, which means that in bad times, the number of beneficiaries goes up, Gundersen says. According to the USDA, more than 46 million people used SNAP benefits in June 2012 – a new record.

"I'm hoping that we've finally hit the ceiling," Gundersen said. "The economy would have to deteriorate even more for those numbers to go higher. Namely, we would have to have substantially higher levels of poverty and unemployment."

So when the economy improves, that number of SNAP recipients will go down by a large amount, Gundersen says.

"When politicians talk about cuts, whatever those cuts are will pale in comparison to what will happen when the economy itself improves, and fewer people are in need of SNAP benefits," he said.

Explore further: Online retailers have clear advantage by not collecting sales tax

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study shows hunger hitting closer to home

Mar 28, 2011

A new study on hunger entitled "Map the Meal Gap" is the first study to identify the county-level distribution of over 50 million food-insecure Americans.

Recommended for you

Not just the poor live hand-to-mouth

13 hours ago

When the economy hits the skids, government stimulus checks to the poor sometimes follow. Stimulus programs—such as those in 2001, 2008 and 2009—are designed to boost the economy quickly by getting cash ...

Which foods may cost you more due to Calif. drought

Apr 17, 2014

With California experiencing one of its worst droughts on record, grocery shoppers across the country can expect to see a short supply of certain fruits and vegetables in stores, and to pay higher prices ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Male-biased tweeting

Today women take an active part in public life. Without a doubt, they also converse with other women. In fact, they even talk to each other about other things besides men. As banal as it sounds, this is far ...

Not just the poor live hand-to-mouth

When the economy hits the skids, government stimulus checks to the poor sometimes follow. Stimulus programs—such as those in 2001, 2008 and 2009—are designed to boost the economy quickly by getting cash ...

Archaeologists, tribe clash over Native remains

Archaeologists and Native Americans are clashing over Indian remains and artifacts that were excavated during a construction project in the San Francisco Bay Area, but then reburied at an undisclosed location.

When things get glassy, molecules go fractal

Colorful church windows, beads on a necklace and many of our favorite plastics share something in common—they all belong to a state of matter known as glasses. School children learn the difference between ...

FCC to propose pay-for-priority Internet standards

The Federal Communications Commission is set to propose new open Internet rules that would allow content companies to pay for faster delivery over the so-called "last mile" connection to people's homes.