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Food stamps cont'd

foodstampsaisle.JPG

I've spent the day calling around to better understand why the Senate plans to slash funding for food stamps (alongside a few other budget items, including some corporate tax breaks) to pay for relief to states. There's an answer, but it's not a very good one.

As in many things, saying "the Senate" obscures what's going on. The majority of the Senate wanted to pass a large bill that included unemployment benefit extensions, aid to states, other jobs programs and, as one does amid a generational recession (or as Republicans do when they want to cut taxes or add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare or go to war in Iraq), borrow money to pay for it. That failed. So everyone is scrambling to find offsets.

But that's harder than it seems. It's not that you can't think of anything to cut, or any taxes to raise. It's that you have to find offsets that can get the votes. Farm subsidies are an enormous waste of money, for instance, but they serve a politically powerful constituency. Food stamps don't, or at least they don't serve a constituency powerful enough to prevent this cut.

To be fair, there's an argument that this isn't really a cut. The food stamp program included in the stimulus overestimated inflation in food prices, so the benefits are more generous than intended. This change means the increase in benefits will run out in 2015 rather than 2018, and 2015 is still longer than the bump was supposed to last. On the other hand, these are food stamps. For poor families. Is it really so awful to give them a bit of a hand now that the recession has proved much worse and much longer than we thought it would be?

But everyone agreed that this cut was a done deal -- the only question is how the money will be spent. Medicaid and teaching jobs are pretty worthy. Some of the other ideas that have been floated -- including farm subsidies, actually -- are less worthy. So one argument is that you may as well lock the funds into something worth funding. Miss this attempt and you lose your chance to get some money to Medicaid and schools without actually saving food stamps.

But this is still a disturbing look into the priorities of, at the least, the Senate's swing members. The Bush tax cuts don't have to be paid for. Subsidies for farmers and oil companies can't be touched. But food stamp recipients getting a bit more than intended during a punishing recession? Time to show America how serious we are about deficit reduction.

Photo credit: Mark Gail/The Washington Post.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 30, 2010; 4:55 PM ET
Categories:  Budget  
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Comments

As PPACA-related Medicaid costs continue to rise, additional cuts in food stamps, welfare, and education will be needed. One effective remedy might be to repeal those portions of the PPACA which increase costs; however, that's not likely, as it would mean that Congressional Democrats would have to eat crow -- to admit that the PPACA increased health care costs well beyond citizens' ability and willingness to pay.

Posted by: rmgregory | July 30, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Cut food stamps.

More people will go to already over strapped food pantries staffed by volunteers.

Fewer people will buy groceries staffed by paid employees.

This bill eliminates private sector jobs.

Posted by: bakho | July 30, 2010 5:15 PM | Report abuse

"Republicans Want to Starve Children" . . .

Come on, Democrats. The ads practically write themselves.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | July 30, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

A 13% increase that runs out in 2015 instead of 2018? You think 13% is cruel?

Posted by: jg41 | July 30, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Here is the fact about food stamps - it is WELFARE. Period. It is something you "qualify" for, not something you "earn". Everything you qualify for but do not earn has to be earned by somebody else who has that money taxed away from them.
Walking out of the grocery store with $100 worth of food and not paying for it used to be called "stealing", now it is called a "benefit". The problem is, the person getting the benefit is NOT the person who expended a part of their life earning the benefit. Food stamps are another one of the "social welfare" programs that started out with good intent and has turned into a source of full time income for millions of people at the expense of everybody else. I am not against the program or any other program that started with good intent. I have a big problem with the fact that the government let these programs run amok and they are now considered by many millions of people as just another source of income in place of having to work.

Posted by: lanbr1 | July 30, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

I've been managing a retail store in a poor neighborhood for the last three years, so I've more of a bottom-up perspective on food stamps. In these three years I have seen every form of graft and exploitation of the food stamp system. In particular, I've seen EBT cash used to buy cigarettes more times than I can count.

Even when the benefit is used as intended, it is almost exclusively used on candy and junk food. Poor people know next to nothing about nutrition and have poor impulse control. Has anybody noticed that these people, who are supposedly in such dire need of "nutrition assistance", are almost universally overweight (not to mention their kids)? I'd love to see the statistics on Type II diabetics on food stamps. I'm sure the rate must be astronomical. I'd also like to see the amount of milk vs soda being purchased.

The only non-junk food item they purchase is bottled water, and boy do they love bottled water. We sell MASSIVE quantities of it. I literally cannot keep my shelves stocked. Our weekly shipment can be up to 1/3 bottled water by volume (probably 1/2 by weight). I shudder to think of the fuel that must be expended to truck this stuff to thousands of stores across the country.

I'm all for spending money to stimulate the economy, but before we expand the food stamp program we need to massively reform it. I suggest a whitelist of foods with actual nutritional content. Either that, or go back to bread lines.

Posted by: y0ssar1an | July 30, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

What's really sick in economic terms is that food stamps provide more stimulus for the economy ($1.73 in GDP for every $1 spent) than any other program.

I used to think these people were just playing politics, now I truly believe they're really just just ignorant. Or as MIT economist Simon Johnson said on Charlie Rose after spending the day on the hill talking to the Senators ... when asked "was there anything from todays discussion that surprised you"

"I was surprised at how little they understand about our economy"

Posted by: jsfry | July 30, 2010 5:54 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if some of the more progressive Senate Democrats will be able to stomach (no pun intended) supporting this funding mechanism, as the details begin to become better-publicized (thanks in part to this blog). This play for support from the Republicans may take away too much support from the center-left.

If saving teachers' jobs and Medicaid must be "pay-go," it seems like there must be better places to achieve savings than snatching from the dinner tables of poor families, especially given the high value economic stimulus effect of the SNAP benefits.

Direct subsidies to big oil and big agriculture would be a great place to begin, instead of the basic nutrition of low income families and individuals.

Posted by: Patrick_M | July 30, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

This story is about resentment. One of the three emotions that the Republicans are trying to expand: Fear, uncertainty, resentment. The issues don't really matter. What matters is how well they fuel the emotions. Resentment that the undeserving poor spend food stamps from the taxpayer; that people who can't afford healthcare will now get attention; that unwed mothers who voted for Obama want to sponge off the system. Fear that we can't control government spending or that Social Security is "bankrupt." Uncertainty that the financial regulation bill or the healthcare bill has so many pages in it that you can't understand it, and it won't work.

It isn't enough to merely hit back on facts. Yes, the Democrats reduced long-term spending and Yes, you need a health insurance mandate so we ALL pay LESS for EVERYBODY. But these are only facts. They don't counteract emotions. You still have to connect them to the emotions.

Fear, uncertainty, resentment. As the Joker said, "It's all part of the plan!"

Posted by: Lee_A_Arnold | July 30, 2010 6:06 PM | Report abuse

@ lanbr1 : Food stamps are another one of the "social welfare" programs that started out with good intent and has turned into a source of full time income for millions of people at the expense of everybody else.

"a source of full time income for millions" Document this, or don't write it. It sounds like typical repub talking points with no basis in fact.

I am ready for you to demonstrate how you can live on SNAP assistance levels as your sole income, with no car, no grocery stores near your home or work, no childcare help to give you time to prepare "healthy" foods...

Posted by: srw3 | July 30, 2010 6:10 PM | Report abuse

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 75 percent of SNAP recipients live in households with children. Sickening. Why are these kids so lazy? Don't they know, like lanbr1 said, that they need to get out there and "earn" their keep!

Morally degenerate chiselers. Go out and get some middle-class parents like I did when I was a kid.

Posted by: MattMilholland | July 30, 2010 6:26 PM | Report abuse

Here is the fact about agriculture subsidies and corporate tax breaks - it is WELFARE. Period. It is something you "qualify" for, not something you "earn". Everything you qualify for but do not earn has to be earned by somebody else who has that money taxed away from them.
Walking out of the grocery store with $100 worth of food and not paying for it used to be called "stealing", now it is called a "benefit". The problem is, the person getting the benefit is NOT the person who expended a part of their life earning the benefit. Agriculture subsidies and corporate tax breaks are another one of the "social welfare" programs that started out with good intent and has turned into a source of full time income for millions of people at the expense of everybody else. I am not against the program or any other program that started with good intent. I have a big problem with the fact that the government let these programs run amok and they are now considered by many millions of people as just another source of income in place of having to work.

Posted by: BHeffernan1 | July 30, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

@BHeffernan1,

"The problem is, the person getting the benefit is NOT the person who expended a part of their life earning the benefit."

How do you know this?

It's an entirely possible that the benefit will be paid for in the future by some trust-fund coke head, whose parents made their money off said welfare recipient via usurious and deceptive financial schemes when the person was working (effectively leaving the person with no financial safety margin).

It's also possible that the person formerly worked at a decent blue-collar job, which was outsourced in the name of shareholder interest and cheap prices for some consumers. The benefit is simply being paid out of some of the earnings of the person who got the lion's share of the benefit out of screwing over the blue-collar worker, under-cutting their wages in the name of making the rich, richer.

The argument against social service spending would be much more compelling in an environment of a robust economic expansion with low-unemployment. Right now, a lot of people who would work can't simply because businesses don't hire when consumers don't spend.

Posted by: JPRS | July 30, 2010 7:31 PM | Report abuse

this is when Democrats control the congress. i don't see where voting has any affect on the federal government.

Posted by: VMzJxah | July 30, 2010 7:38 PM | Report abuse

The most obese country in the world corrects an overestimation of the food stamp program and you have a problem with that. Really. I suggest that some of you that are whining about this go shop at Walmart sometime, not Whole Foods, not Trader Joes, not some boutique health food store. Actually walk inside Walmart and take in the experience and see if you think there is widespead famine in the US. I know it is much easier to get a picture from a picture bank of a place you probably haven't been in years and attempt drum up some controversy. But really, this is controversial?

Posted by: Jenga918 | July 30, 2010 7:50 PM | Report abuse

I'm constantly amazed that when it comes time to make cuts or find funding, it's always programs for the middle class and poor that get cut whereas corporate welfare never get cut. This website and the attached report outlines $500 Billion in corporate welfare that could easily be cut. You don't have to agree with the philosophical view of the organization that wrote this report to understand how much tax payers are paying to subsidize extraordinarily profitable corporations. When I read this report I was outraged!

http://www.greenscissors.com/index.html

Posted by: valkayec | July 30, 2010 8:16 PM | Report abuse

srw3 - SNAP assistance levels as your sole income, with no car, no grocery stores near your home or work, no childcare help to give you time to prepare "healthy" foods... So... why is poor planning on your part supposed to be an automatic free ride into my wallet? Where is the kid's father?

Irresponsible men and women make kids they cannot afford, NOT the state. Those irresponsible men and women should start supporting their own kids. With money that they should have to EARN they should be feeding the kids, providing them with a place to live, providing them with health care, etc.... Start acting like parents and not like baby factories that just want to say "I need, I need" and then have everything handed to you - paid for with somebody else's hard earned money.

Posted by: lanbr1 | July 30, 2010 8:40 PM | Report abuse

BTW, I think if Americans learned how much taxpayer money goes to subsize profitable large corporations and industries, they'd be amazed and outraged too. But most people have no idea how much corporate welfare exists. Instead, people argue over how much money should be spent - or over where the money can be found - to help small businesses, unemployed workers, or food stamps.

The media is doing the public a great disservice in not informing the public of the breadth and amount of corporate welfare they are paying for. One subsidy goes clear back to the early 1800s and is STILL on the books.

Enough already! End corporate welfare now!!!! Give the taxpayers their money back.

Stop paying Exxon-Mobil and BP and Massey Energy (of the famed mine explosion that killed hundreds of its workers) and ADM and hundreds of other very profitable companies with taxpayer monies. If those companies cannot make it without the government's outright financial support, they should be allowed to go out of business.

Taxpayer monies can be better spent reducing the deficit or supporting small and emerging businesses and people who really do need help, not huge corporations which are extremely profitable.

Corporate welfare, especially to legacy industries, is an affront to free market capitalism as well as to the morals and ethics of a democratic nation.

End. Corporate. Welfare. Now!

Posted by: valkayec | July 30, 2010 8:50 PM | Report abuse

Ezra: "But food stamp recipients getting a bit more than intended during a punishing recession? Time to show America how serious we are about deficit reduction."

I'll provide a place to get serious about deficit reduction: the home mortgage interest deduction. It costs the Treasury on the order of $100 billion a year. It goes to people who can afford $1 million mortgages. And because it's a tax deduction, those in the highest income tax brackets get the biggest breaks.

One can argue about whether having the government encourage home ownership is a good thing or not. But even if it is, this has got to be one of the most wasteful, poorly targeted, and expensive subsidies around. Surely the government could save tens of billions of dollars a year by reducing the qualifying mortgage amount and/or making the benefit a tax credit instead of a deduction, and still meet the goal of enabling those who might not otherwise buy a home to buy one (instead of encouraging people who can already buy homes to buy bigger homes).

Yes, it would lower home prices. Even I wouldn't recommend going cold turkey right now in this housing market. But Britain mananged phased out its subsidy over a 12 year period without crashing real estate values. And yes, it would be fought by the real estate and home construction industries. Well, cutting spending is going to affect some groups, and if they don't deserve the funding, then they don't deserve it. (And if legislators are worried about losing campaign contributions, they should enact public campaign financing and be done with it.)

There is simply no good policy reason why lower and moderate earners should be subsidizing people buying $1 million homes. If we're serious about the deficit, it's precisely programs like this one that have to be on the table.
for more, see http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/23/business/23views.html and http://dontmesswithtaxes.typepad.com/dont_mess_with_taxes/2010/06/kill-the-mortgage-interest-tax-deduction.html

Posted by: dasimon | July 30, 2010 9:18 PM | Report abuse

@lanbr1 : Why don't you just say cadillac driving welfare queens and be done with it. Someday you should leave the suburbs of rightwingnutistan and spend some time around the poor, the working poor, the unemployed, etc. You read like a rush limbaugh radio screed and what you write is about as accurate.

"those irresponsible men and women should start supporting their own kids. With money that they should have to EARN they should be feeding the kids, providing them with a place to live, providing them with health care, etc...."

How about poor farms, work houses, debt peonage and indentured servitude as options for the poor and unemployed? Are you waving the magic job wand so that the 17 million unemployed will suddenly have living wage work? You do know that the vast majority of people using SNAP are white working poor people with kids. They have jobs. They work. They scrape to make ends meet. Minority working poor people are next. They don't fit your setereotype of lazy, shiftless, scammers of your right wing nightmares.

Posted by: srw3 | July 31, 2010 12:14 AM | Report abuse

yes you can save money on your auto insurance by making few simple changes find how much you can save http://bit.ly/d4HSCH

Posted by: bradycesar | July 31, 2010 2:33 AM | Report abuse


Major brands always give out their popular brand samples (in a way it is similar to coupons) I alway use qualityhealth to get mine http://bit.ly/9UAtgc enjoy your free samples

Posted by: robertfrost31 | July 31, 2010 4:53 AM | Report abuse

One more reason to enforce the US Immigration Laws. SECURE our borders; DEPORT illegals, cut down on Anchor babies that receive Food Stamps. Cut down the cost of Food Stamps.

Posted by: HPSNComment | July 31, 2010 11:56 AM | Report abuse

One more reason to enforce the US Immigration Laws.

SECURE our borders; DEPORT illegals, cut down on Anchor babies that receive Food Stamps. Cut down the cost of Food Stamps.

Posted by: HPSNComment | July 31, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

One more reason to enforce the US Immigration Laws.

SECURE our borders; DEPORT illegals, cut down on Anchor babies that receive Food Stamps. Cut down the cost of Food Stamps.

Posted by: HPSNComment | July 31, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

1) How many Washington Post staffers were part of JournoList and, if there are any currently unnamed, who are they?

2) Will the Post be transparent and either release or order its staffers to release their contributions to the list?

3) Will the Post release the names and affiliations of all those on the list or have its staffers do so?

4) Did the Post know about JournoList when Klein was hired and that it was a “center to left” group? If yes, what does that say about the Post’s claims of neutrality?

5) Did actions on JournoList violate the Post’s ethical guidelines?

6) Has the Post revised or added any ethical guidelines as a result of this scandal?

7) Will the Post permit staffers to belong to or operate such lists in the future?

8) Does the Post often embrace “off the record” e-mail conversations with hundreds of people at a time?

9) Was Klein’s supervisor(s) on the list and were they monitoring what went on?

10) Has the Post examined the possibility that JournoList impacted Post news coverage?

11) How much did the Post look into JournoList before hiring Klein?

12) Were Klein and the other Post members of the list using it and posting to it on company time? If not, when were they doing so?

13) Did Klein and the other Post members write to the list using company equipment and offices?

14) Was Klein aware that some were using the list to boost the Obama campaign, such as adviser Jared Bernstein?

15) Did Klein attempt to enforce a rule against campaigning and, if so, how?

16) Did Klein post written guidelines for all members of the list? If so, what were those guidelines?

17) Klein had said on The American Prospect on March 17, 2009: “There are no government or campaign employees on the list.” That has been proven false. How did he try to monitor this issue? Were there other members of the Obama campaign and administration on the list?

18) Did Klein ban anyone from the list?

19) Has Klein or any other Post staffer (other than Dave Weigel) offered to resign because of their contributions to the list?

20) When Klein shut down the list, did he delete the list? If not, will the Post order him to release it so that readers may decide for themselves?

Posted by: JoeJeffersonn | July 31, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

joejefferson

looks like there is a bit of a problem in your neck of the woods:-)

http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2010/07/29/fred_barnes_paid_gop/index.html

Posted by: jkaren | July 31, 2010 5:48 PM | Report abuse

I HEARD THAT MANY FAMILY UNITS MARRY UNDER THIER RELIGOUS LAWS BUT NEVER UNDER THE USA MARITAL LAWS INORDER TO MAXIMIZE THE AMOUNT OF FUNDS THAT THEY CAN RECEIVE FOR FOOD STAMPS AS A SINGLE PERSON. IS THIS TRUE?

Posted by: wiseholmes | July 31, 2010 7:36 PM | Report abuse

Using generalizations about fat people at walmart to minimize the truly tragic situation of malnutrition amongst America's poor children is puerile and revolting. After working in public schools for 5 years and seeing how the only food these children get are school lunches, any cut in food subsidies while we happily subsidize oil companies is just wrong.

Posted by: ChicagoIndependant | July 31, 2010 8:17 PM | Report abuse

@JoeJeffersonn:

Journalists talk amongst themselves, consult policy experts and academics, and write about it. Pretty darn exciting. BTW, Klein agreed for the posts to be off the record...Breitbart obviously has no such agreements. Why doesn't he release the threads so that readers can judge for themselves if Breitbarts legendary journalistic integrity and editing skills reflect what people on the list actually wrote. FREE THE THREADS!

Posted by: srw3 | August 1, 2010 1:19 AM | Report abuse

End Farm Subsidies and use the money to reduce the deficit or increase the food stamp budget. Farm Subsidies do not provide more food or decrease the price of food. A rural Iowan who is tired of seeing Iowa farmers drive $50,000 pickups and live in million dollars homes, all paid for by the taxpayers of this nation.

Posted by: xube | August 1, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Oh. I forgot to add that farm subsidies have destroyed the land in Iowa and across the farm belt and have poisoned our water. Des Moines had to put in a $7 million "nitrogen" scrubber so their water would be "safe." There is no "safe" water in America because of modern agricultural practices, supported by federal subsidies.

Lastly, I don't understand what all the concern is about the oil spill in the Gulf for the Gulf below the U.S. is already "dead", thanks to the U.S. Farmers and their dependence on agricultural welfare.

Posted by: xube | August 1, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Spot on, Ezra! I found your blog about two weeks ago and since then I've love all your posts, especially the Paul Ryan interview. Keep on killin it!

Posted by: jeremy019 | August 1, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

"In particular, I've seen EBT cash used to buy cigarettes more times than I can count."

I call BS.
States have EBT cards and unless you all in the place you work are committing fraud there is no way someone could use their EBT cards to buy cigarettes.

Posted by: vintagejulie | August 1, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

"Actually walk inside Walmart and take in the experience and see if you think there is widespead famine in the US."

Yeah, because national statistics on malnutrition can't hope to compete with your amateur sociological study of the local WalMart.

(Ezra's trolls really are in competition with Yglesias's. Fewer outright crazies, but a lot of sour-faced bustards.)

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | August 2, 2010 12:32 AM | Report abuse

Ezra - Obey said that the cut originated somewhere in the White House. Can you help us find out where?

I find this incredible, especially since Obama is the first president who actually benefited from food stamps as a child.

Posted by: pzaudke | August 2, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html

Where are your statistics on widespread US famine? If we have malnutrition, it is as in too many calories, which is almost an insult to the word considering the definition around the globe.

Posted by: Jenga918 | August 2, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

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