House Republicans Want to Punish the Poor

Latest Budget Proposal Slashes Nutrition Assistance and Jobs

Donna Cooper calculates the Ryan budget’s proposed cuts mean more than 8 billion fewer meals for our poorest families as well as 184,000 fewer jobs for American workers.

House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), center, and others leave a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, where he discussed his budget blueprint. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), center, and others leave a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, where he discussed his budget blueprint. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

See also: Interactive Map: House Republicans’ Latest Assault on Nutrition Assistance by Donna Cooper

The latest House Republican budget plan asks low-income and middle-class Americans to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while simultaneously delivering massive tax breaks to the richest 1 percent and preserving huge giveaways to Big Oil. It’s a recipe for repeating the mistakes of the Bush administration, during which middle-class incomes stagnated and only the privileged few enjoyed enormous gains.

Each component of the new House Republican budget threatens the middle class while doing nothing to add jobs or grow our economy. It ends the guarantee of decent insurance for senior citizens, breaking Medicare’s bedrock promise. It slashes investments in education, infrastructure, and basic research, all of which are key drivers of economic growth and mobility. And it cuts taxes for those at the top, asking the middle class to pick up the tab. It’s a budget designed to benefit the top 1 percent at everyone else’s expense.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) would like to enact a fiscal year 2013 budget that provides tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and funds those tax cuts in part by increasing the federal deficit and in part by imposing drastic reductions to domestic programs, including America’s bedrock program aimed at stemming childhood and adult hunger, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Rep. Ryan is proposing to cut the program by $133.5 billion over 10 years beginning in October, the start of the next fiscal year. Assuming that cut is spread out evenly over 10 years, his proposal reduces supplemental nutrition assistance spending by nearly 20 percent annually.[1] Such a cut will have a devastating impact on the poorest American children, elderly, and adults.

Nearly one in seven Americans relies on this program to help cover the cost of their meals.[2] That number is unusually high because the Great Recession wiped out so many jobs. And for those low-income workers who still have jobs but experience reduced hours, earning this supplemental nutrition assistance remains essential. Nearly 50 percent of all households with children receiving supplemental nutrition assistance benefits have at least one employed adult.[3]

The cuts will mean millions of families will not be able to afford billions of meals. Because all families receiving supplemental nutrition assistance live at or near the federal poverty level, which for a family of three in 2012 is $19,090, they are not likely to have other income to make up for Rep. Ryan’s cut to monthly food assistance payments. As a result, the Center for American Progress estimates that this cut could force America’s poorest families to forgo as many as 8.2 billion meals a year.[4] That’s the number of meals consumed by 7.5 million people over a year—approximately the combined population of Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas.

These cuts also mean grave consequences for employment growth in our economy. Reducing the amount of money that poor families can spend on food will reduce grocery store sales and cause job losses. Based on the analysis in our report “The Economic Consequences of Cutting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” released earlier this week, we calculate that Rep. Ryan’s budget plan for FY 2013 would mean the elimination of 184,000 jobs.

Of these job losses, such deep cuts could directly eliminate 86,000 jobs among grocers and retail food support sectors including food trucking companies and food warehousing. Another 45,000 jobs would be jobs lost in companies indirectly connected to the food sector, among them industrial and commercial janitorial companies or companies that build and maintain heating and cooling systems. And finally more than 52,000 jobs would be lost because of the induced job losses associated with these cuts. An induced job loss happens when grocery store cashiers are laid off and consequently have less income to spend, which means they stop spending money on other items such as clothes, leading to layoffs in retail sales stores.

These cuts also will exacerbate the alarming unemployment rate among young workers, which as of February 2012 stood at nearly 23.8 percent for youth ages 16 to 19, and nearly 13.8 percent for young adults ages 20 to 24. According to Jeff Thompson, author of our recent report on supplemental nutrition assistance and a University of Massachusetts Amherst economist with the Political Economic Research Institute, “job losses will likely have the greatest impact on younger workers, since they account for a disproportionate share of workers in food-related industries—nearly one-third of grocery employees are under 25, compared to just 14 percent of workers in all industries.”

As America’s economy continues to improve and generate more jobs, fewer families will need to rely on supplemental nutrition assistance to put meals on the table. But the proposed House Republican budget isn’t giving our economy that chance to recover. Instead, it’s slashing government investments in our future and our essential social safety net programs—among them the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—in order to offer more tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans.

Nothing better demonstrates how callously out of touch the Republican leadership is about the hardship still faced by the 22 million American families for whom supplemental nutrition assistance is a clearly a lifeline. Worse yet it demonstrates that the House leadership is willing to put the livelihood of 184,000 hard-working Americans at risk to advance their ideological drive, and shred America’s safety net so millionaires can enjoy even higher after-tax incomes.

Donna Cooper is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.


[1]. Author’s calculation of the percent cut represented by a $13.4 billion cut to FY 2011 level of spending of $72 billion.

[2]. Author’s calculation based on U.S. Census estimate of U.S. population of 313 million and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s reports of participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program of 46 million as of December 2011. See: “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Number of Persons Participating,” available at

[3]. Food and Nutrition Service, Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Households: Fiscal Year 2010 (Department of Agriculture, 2011), Table A.6, available at

[4]. Author’s calculation of total meals is based the Ryan budget plan’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cut spread out over 10 years, which comes to $13.4 billion a year. The amount of the cut is divided by $1.62, which is the average per meal per benefit for the average household for a family of three. See: Food and Nutrition Service, Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Households: Fiscal Year 2010.

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Donna Cooper

Senior Fellow