The House Agriculture Committee has reported out its version of a new farm bill that will cut $16.5 billion over 10 years from funding of SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, once known as food stamps.
The cuts in the House bill exceed those in the Senate bill by $12 billion.
Sixteen and a half billion dollars amounts to a whopping 2 percent cut in SNAP program expenditures. At a time when we are running trillion-dollar annual federal budget deficits, it's hard to see a 2 percent cut in any large spending program as provocative -- particularly in a program like SNAP, where spending in 2011 was more than 400 percent higher than in 2000.
Yet liberals are predictably ringing the alarm. Assistant House Democratic leader James Clyburn, D-S.C., called the cuts "abominable," suggesting they will jeopardize nutrition of children and that it's all about protecting "the wealthy and the well-to-do."
I recall these kinds of charges from the Left when I worked on reforming welfare in 1995 and 1996. Those reforms, signed into law by President Clinton, were far more sweeping than 2 percent cuts. Not only did doomsday predictions not come to pass, but welfare rolls were dramatically reduced without casting anyone into the street. Instead, young women on welfare went to work.
Why, if cutting back on SNAP spending is about protecting "the wealthy," as Clyburn would have us believe, do big corporations like Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods and Kroger support and lobby for the program, as Time magazine recently reported they do?
It's because government spending programs, even if initiated with the best of intentions, wind up being about interests, not efficiency or compassion.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, 18 million Americans received SNAP benefits in 2000. By 2011, this number had grown to 45 million, one of seven Americans.
Liberals tell us that the mind-boggling growth of this program is explained by our floundering economy. But, as Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., points out, spending on this program increased 100 percent from 2001 to 2006, a period during which there was no increase in the rate of unemployment.
From 2007 to 2011, spending increased another 135 percent. But CBO attributes only about 65 percent of the dramatic growth in program spending and the number of recipients to the recession.
What has been happening is that it has become increasingly easy to qualify for SNAP benefits, the government has been spending more taxpayer funds promoting the program and the stigma of food stamps as a welfare program has disappeared.
A New York Times article in 2010 carried the headline "Once Stigmatized, Food Stamps Find Acceptance." The article notes posters in New York City announcing "Applying for food stamps is easier than ever" and quotes Eric Bost, head of the program under President George W. Bush, saying "I assure you, food stamps is not welfare."
According to CBO, three-fourths of recipients are "categorically eligible," which means they automatically qualify by virtue of participating in some other federal or state welfare program. In some states, they need not even be receiving cash benefits from these programs -- simply having received an information pamphlet can be enough.
At one time, recipients received their food stamp benefits in dollar-denominated paper vouchers that they had to present at the cash register. Now, benefits come on a sharp-looking electronic debit card that looks like any credit or debit card.
And the fact that SNAP funds are provided by the federal government, but administered and spent by the states, is a proven formula, as in Medicaid, for undisciplined spending growth.
Sadly, our nation has become a food stamp plantation.
The most compassionate thing that can be done today is exactly what is not happening -- economic growth, job creation and getting folks to work. The path to this end is to make government smaller, not larger.
Star Parker is president of CURE.