House Republican Cuts to Nutrition Assistance Would Harm Families in Every State
Budgets, it is often said in Washington, are moral documents meant to convey priorities. House Republicans’ fiscal year 2018 budget makes their priorities crystal clear—namely, delivering tax cuts to millionaires at the expense of America’s struggling working families.
The budget’s radical, sweeping cuts to programs that everyday Americans rely on should be a wake-up call for anyone who believes that congressional Republicans are more reasonable than President Donald Trump. Like the budget the Trump administration released in May, House Republicans’ budget would gut services for people with disabilities, eviscerate Medicaid, cut Social Security, and hike costs for families struggling to afford college.
The budget proposal would devastate nutrition assistance
Among the cruelest elements of the proposal is its plan to decimate the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Previously known as food stamps, SNAP is the nation’s largest nutrition assistance program and helps ensure that families do not go hungry when a parent loses a job, when an emergency strikes, or when wages simply aren’t enough to make ends meet. Two-thirds of SNAP benefits go to children, seniors, and people with disabilities; in 2015, SNAP lifted 4.6 million people, including 2 million children, out of poverty.
Despite SNAP’s modest benefits—which average only $1.39 per person per meal—the program’s effects extend far beyond helping families put food on the table. Research shows that SNAP’s long-run positive impacts include improving health outcomes for infants and new mothers and boosting kids’ educational attainment. The program is also a major engine of job creation, with every $1 billion spent on SNAP supporting nearly 11,500 additional jobs. By enabling cash-strapped families to purchase food, SNAP benefits create a ripple effect through the economy, supporting jobs not only in stores such as groceries and retailers but also in upstream industries such agriculture, food manufacturing, trucking, and warehousing.
More than 7 million households per year could lose access to benefits starting in 2023.
House Republicans want to slash SNAP by a whopping $154 billion over 10 years. The bulk of this cut—roughly $141 billion—would occur between 2023 and 2027, under the guise of providing greater “flexibility” to states, though Republicans have not said whether this would come in the form of a block grant or something else. This $141 billion cut—representing 42 percent of projected spending—would cripple the program and likely force states to rip critical food assistance away from struggling families. In this sense, House Republicans’ cuts are even more draconian than Trump’s—whose budget slashes SNAP by 38 percent over the same period. If these cuts were enacted solely by taking families off the program, more than 7 million households per year could lose access to benefits starting in 2023, and 6.6 million households could lose access in 2027.
Estimates of the number of households who could lose SNAP benefits in every state are shown in Table 1, below, and estimates for every state and congressional district are available here.
The budget proposal targets the most vulnerable
The House budget’s SNAP cuts also include even more punitive time limits for jobless workers. Unemployed workers without children already face harsh time limits on receiving SNAP: They can only receive nutrition assistance for three months out of a three-year period unless they can find work or job training for 20 hours per week. The House budget assumes even further savings from these time limits, raising the question of who else the limits would apply to and how much harsher lawmakers aim to make them. This policy is counterproductive and may actually impede people’s ability to search for work. Taking away someone’s ability to purchase food is not likely to help them find a job faster.
At the same time, the cuts will make it even harder for people to find work because SNAP spending affects employment. A 2015 Center for American Progress analysis found that every $1 billion in SNAP cuts results in approximately 11,437 jobs lost, because families’ reduced food purchases create a negative ripple effect throughout the economy. If production functions, costs of labor, and other inputs remain similar in 2023—when House Republicans’ proposed SNAP cuts take effect—the total of $154 billion in proposed cuts would kill more than 352,000 jobs in the first year alone. Instead of kicking people while they are down, lawmakers interested in helping people get back to work should invest in job creation and enact policies to remove barriers to employment such as having a criminal record or lacking access to transportation.
Finally, the House budget’s cuts to nutrition would affect other programs as well, targeting infants, toddlers, and schoolchildren. In spite of evidence showing that low-income kids get up to 50 percent of their daily calories from school meals, the House budget further limits national school meals programs in schools that serve many poor children. This would make it harder for these schools to deliver free and reduced-price lunch to their students. The budget would also further restrict eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which provides nutritious food, formula, and educational services to pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women and their babies.
The budget proposal provides huge tax cuts for the richest Americans
House Republicans’ senseless cuts to nutrition assistance would mean that millions of children, seniors, people with disabilities, and struggling working families are deprived of basic living standards. But these deep cuts are especially astounding in light of the fact that House Republicans hope to use the savings to pay for tax cuts for the richest Americans. In fact, while House majority leaders insist on taking food away from families struggling to make ends meet, they have proposed more than 3 trillion dollars in tax cuts—of which all but a small fraction would benefit the richest top 1 percent of households. The price tag of just a single one of the proposed tax cuts—repealing the tax on estates worth more than $5.49 million, which would cost an estimated $269 billion over a decade—is nearly double the proposed SNAP cuts that could drop 7 million households from the program. For less than the cost of this millionaires’ tax cut in the final year of the budget window, every child participating in SNAP could be fed for the entire year.*
Cuts to SNAP are an attack on everyday Americans. Nearly 70 percent of Americans will turn to a means-tested program like SNAP at some point during their lives. Half of American children live in a household that will turn to SNAP sometime during their childhood. Furthermore, millions of Americans rely on the jobs that SNAP creates. And the future of the American workforce depends on our children getting a high-quality education, which nutrition programs support. These cuts would inflict a tremendous amount of pain on families—all to give millionaires and corporations another tax cut. Americans must demand better.
* Estimates based on analysis by the Joint Tax Committee (JCT) of H.R. 1105, which the House passed in 2015. JCT estimated that in the 2025, the final year of the ten-year budget window, the estate tax repeal would cost nearly $32.8 billion. The Congressional Budget Office expects total SNAP spending to be about $68.1 billion in 2025. Assuming the share of SNAP recipients who are children—about 44.5 percent in 2015—remains constant, SNAP spending on children in 2025 will be about $30.3 billion.
Rachel West is an associate director for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress. Melissa Boteach is the vice president of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center.
The authors wish to thank Harry Stein and Seth Hanlon for valuable advice.
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Director of Poverty Research
Senior Vice President, Poverty to Prosperity Program