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Senate cutting food stamps to pay for Medicaid and teacher funding


It's the Sophie's choice of budget decisions: Should we cut Medicaid? Fire teachers? Or slash food stamps?

How about all three? In order to get less Medicaid and teacher funding than we actually need, we're cutting food stamps by $6.7 billion (and closing some foreign tax loopholes, rescinding some spending decisions and changing Medicaid's drug pricing).

The reasoning for this is, well, I'll let Rep. David Obey lay it out. "The cost of food relative to what we thought it would be has come down, so people on food stamps are getting a pretty good deal in comparison to what we thought they were going to get," he explains. But is that really a reason to cut food stamps? Obey didn't think so. "Some poor bastard is going to get a break for a change," he said.

Some background: The Recovery Act included an immediate 13.6 percent increase in food stamps (which are now known as SNAP). That increase equals out to a maximum of $80 per household -- and these are not rich households. But the price of food has leveled out, and in some cases decreased, in the recession. Meanwhile, the number of people who needed help skyrocketed to more than 40 million. For that reason, the program's costs ballooned from an expected $20 billion to about $65 billion. The new price tag scared some, so people began talking about cutting the benefits back.

And here we are. Democrats needed to offset spending on two worthy, important programs. So they're cutting another important, worthy program. But you really can't think of a worse program to cut than SNAP. SNAP is an extraordinarily well-targeted stimulus. It goes to poor households, for something they need to buy. According to Mark Zandi's numbers, it's literally the most stimulative way to spend a dollar: Better than state and local aid, or unemployment insurance. You get more than $1.70 of economic activity for each buck you put in.

There's a part of me that wants to use this to knock down the canard that government is full of obvious waste and inefficiency. Democrats don't like to cut food stamps, and they'd avoid it if they thought they could. Budget rhetoric is full of easy choices, but budgets are about hard choices, and this is a hard, and ugly, choice.

But this is also a question of priorities, of what gets cut. Bernie Sanders put up an amendment last month to cut about $35 billion in oil and gas subsidies. It failed. Republicans are arguing to extend Bush's tax cuts for the rich with no offsets, and they may well succeed. But food assistance for poor families? You can get the votes to slash those.

Photo credit: Wonderlane/Flickr

By Ezra Klein  |  July 30, 2010; 10:29 AM ET
Categories:  Budget  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Eat your chicken ... or else
Next: What will Congress do about the Bush tax cuts?


It seems we are supposed to temper our anger at moves like this (including recently yet another extra-budget process, unpaid-for 'war supplemental' [abandoning a campaign promise] in which paid-for domestic funding was cut) with 'wins' such as watered-down HCR and financial regulation? Are we to clap louder?

The poor continue to get punched in the face and blamed for all our ills, while the rich continue to get truckloads of cash and escape deserved blame for our current economic conditions. I see no fight by this Administration on too many issues that matter to the non-rich. Fighting via the bully pulpit and the media and losing is so much more inspiring than not fighting at all.

Posted by: terraformer5 | July 30, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

We need a change in government structure. I've always been a booster of the "benevolent dictator".

At this point, I'd much rather be commanded by a "benevolent dictator", than to be represented by a self-interested legislator.

Who's up for a new constitution?

Posted by: PaulArkay | July 30, 2010 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Rachel and Keith may buy your schtick, but I don't anymore. You are a liar shill for the right and corporate interests. I'm watching you and you will be called out by me.

Posted by: tlhamzy | July 30, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

"It's the Sophie's choice of budget decisions: Should we cut Medicaid? Fire teachers? Or slash food stamps?

How about all three? In order to get less Medicaid and teacher funding than we actually need, we're cutting food stamps by $6.7 billion (and closing some foreign tax loopholes, rescinding some spending decisions and changing Medicaid's drug pricing)."

Cut teacher salaries, not positions. Then you have money for Medicaid, Food Stamps and you still have your teachers.

"Rachel and Keith may buy your schtick, but I don't anymore. You are a liar shill for the right and corporate interests. I'm watching you and you will be called out by me."

Ezra's a shill for the right and corporate interests? What? How can you read the last paragraph and come away with that impression?

Posted by: justin84 | July 30, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

I wonder if food stamps (SNAP) themselves will be cut, or an associated program. I work for a Cooperative Extension agency and one of our programs offers nutrition education to food stamp eligible people, paid for with food stamp dollars (SNAP-Ed). There have been rumblings in the system that the money for this program might be reallocated to other budgetary needs. This would be bad news for our agency, the entire Cooperative Extension network in New York State, and land-grant universities across the country. Our agency has 5.5 employees doing nutrition education, and we will have to lay off staff if this funding is redirected.

I would also like to note that this program requires us to leverage $1 of other funding for every dollar it gives us for nutrition education. So if this funding is used elsewhere, it means a huge shrinkage of resources devoted to nutrition education directed to the poor, which is the population most at risk of obesity.

*Sigh* It is a horrible time to be the finance person for a non-profit agency. And I will stop here.

Posted by: scifiknitter | July 30, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Seriously tlhamzy, could you have chosen a worse post to accuse Ezra of being a right-wing shill?

Posted by: MosBen | July 30, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

I just checked the figures - the SNAP-Ed budget is $310 million in 2010.

Posted by: scifiknitter | July 30, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

My guess is that this funding is related to SNAP-Ed, not Food Stamp (SNAP) benefits themselves. Since the benefit is an entitlement, available by law in an amount prescribed by law, the only way the actual amount of benefits could be cut would be a change in the eligibility requirements or in the formula for determining benefit amount, both pretty major items which seem unlikely to me to be included in an amendment of this type.

While Food Stamp benefits themselves are an excellent program in terms both of meetng targeted need and overall stimulus for the economy, I don't think you can make the argument that every type of activity associated with Food Stamps or other food aid programs should therefore be sacrosanct. I worked for the Food and Nutrition Service (USDA agency that administers food assistance programs) for twenty years, and while the major programs (Food Stamps, WIC, disaster relief and emergency food assistance and (possibly) the School Lunch Program) are reasonably well run and effective, there has been a proliferation of auxilary programs which have little evidence of effectiveness. In particular, nutrition education has been an obsessive issue for well over a decade, but I don't know there is much evidence that it has had much effect on anything except as a very effective employment program for nutritionists and dieticians (one of my colleagues once observed that you couldn't swing a dead cat in some parts of the agency without hitting a nutritionist - but then again, we were financial types involved in the fraud/waste/abuse prevention end of things, so maybe we were just too hard-bitten and cynical). However, if you are going to make the argument that priorities have to be set, then I think you have to look at things like SNAP-Ed as part of a good faith effort to define what it is that the government should really be funding. I know we aren't going to close the budget deficit by eliminating SNAP-Ed, or other riduculous programs like the Family Home Day Care food program, a chronic hotbed of fraud and abuse. But the answer can't always be 'well, it does SOME good, so we must keep funding it.'

Posted by: guesswhosue | July 30, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Maybe we need to start handing out the Plumpy Nut? $12/month.'nut

Posted by: staticvars | July 30, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Nice post sue, agreed there can be waste in well intended programs.

Still, it's hard to read about a $6.7B cut in food stamps after reading yesterday that current large banking profits are an unfortunate (for some) consequence of the US citizen's $700B ($23K per person) effort to save the banking sector from ruining the wider economy.

From yesterday:
"...the bankers are making a lot of money some moral sense, these bankers did not deserve to be saved. The problem was that if they went down with the ship, we were going down too. The right way to think about the banker benefits was collateral damage in a war to save the economy."

Yeah, TARP was worth doing -- a necessary evil. But folks on food stamps could use a little collateral damage like that.

Posted by: BHeffernan1 | July 30, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

"There's a part of me that wants to use this to knock down the canard that government is full of obvious waste and inefficiency."

But it's not a canard. There is waste and inefficiency in any large bureaucracy, and the federal government is the largest. If, however, by "obvious" you mean "easy to cut", then, yes, there's very little that's easy to "just cut". It may be easy to observe that someone is morbidly obese, but it's not easy to "just cut" the fat. There has to be a change in diet, and exercise program, and a lot of patience over time. Add to the fact that, in the case of the government, there are a lot of people who like and/or depend on the fat, and what to keep it forever, it makes cutting anything very difficult.

@PaulArkay: "At this point, I'd much rather be commanded by a 'benevolent dictator', than to be represented by a self-interested legislator."

And I'd prefer to be shot with gentle bullets ("it's like a kiss when they puncture your vital organs!") but then I think, wait, there's no such thing.

Even the most "benevolent" dictator is a tyrant, if you disagree. Admittedly, there can be "Benevolent Understanding" camps set up for those not mature or enlightened enough to understand the greatness of the Benevolent Dictator, but, in the end, the ends will always justify the means. People will have to die, or be put in prison, if they choose to obstruct the benevolent dictator's Plan of Universal Good Will.

Thanks, but no thanks. I'll choose the self-interested legislator.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | July 30, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Kevin_Willis: "Thanks, but no thanks. I'll choose the self-interested legislator."

As I've always said, there's nothing wrong with this country that a good philosopher-king couldn't long as I get to be the philosopher-king!

Posted by: dasimon | July 30, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

Why doesn't B-HO get rid of the expansion of food stamps so that even over privileged students and foodies can cheat the system & sponge off food stamps? The blog was rife with articles where spoiled foodies were talking about using food stamps at expensive co-ops and similar type natural food stores to buy salmon and other luxury items. But then again, the left are selfish prats, like you, Excrement Klein. You reduce social programs that were intended only for the poorest citizens, and use them as corporate welfare programs to prop up cheap foreign labor, while poor citizens are pushed into homelessness.

Posted by: jenn3 | July 30, 2010 8:02 PM | Report abuse

Why aren't you asking why HObama's healthcare reform scam isn't replacing medicaid? If the middle class can't have their own health care insurance that they or their employers have paid for, and Obama's blown more than a trillion on that scam HCR, why do we need medicaid any more?

Posted by: jenn3 | July 30, 2010 8:04 PM | 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 enjoy your free samples

Posted by: robertfrost31 | July 31, 2010 6:01 AM | Report abuse

Cut the food stamps. Cut the medicaid. Cut social security benefits. Cut child welfare payments. Throw all the sick. blind and lame out of the hospitals.Stop umemployemnt benefits.Let the big businesses keep the money they pay in to the system. Maybe they'll sit on it and draw interest, or perhaps buy machines to save more money instead of hiring a human.Or maybe they'll find a customer overseas to buy their expensive products.Whatever congress does they mustn't tax the capitalist companies who are not even loyal enough to build,their product in the United States.Joke of the year in a bad economy. There was a company on the news last night who told a reporter they had added 300,000 new jobs. "That's wonderful said the interveiwer."How many were in the US?" "Du-Du-3000." was the response. Getting Americans back to work at a fair wage (not minimum), so they can buy those ($30,000 hybreds being built) is the answer to the economic recession not congress shifting the costs to those who are already burdened.

Posted by: raholden2004 | July 31, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

The Democrats are up to old their tricks of taking from the poor (food stamps) to give to the public union goons (teachers) that to give money to their campaigns.

Fortunately, we journolist to tell us how WORTHY it is funnel money to the union goons (Remember they DESERVE to retire 15 or 20 years earlier than everybody else...their unions give money to Democrats)

Posted by: TECWRITE | July 31, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Below is a chart from

The holy grail legislation and the only thing the Repubs will not filibuster is their pet issue: Making The Bush Tax Cut permanent. Look for yourselves on the chart. It would provide the worse bang for the buck in stimulus.

The biggest: Food Stamps.

The reason is obvious. People who get food stamps will spend them right away. They can even be used at Farmers Markets now to support local farmers, and local economy.

People in the top .01 percent who benefit from the Bush Tax Cuts will mostly take that money and buy US treasury Bonds, which means we are giving them money so they can loan it back to us with interests. Does that sound as stupid as it sounds to you as it does to me.

Or they will tuck it away in some bank who will then not loan money to small businesses, and then give huge bonuses to their executives, who will buy treasury bonds with it.
Either way the money will not stimulate the economy.

Fiscal Economic Bang for the Buck

One year $ change in real GDP for a given $ reduction in federal tax revenue or increase
in spending
Tax Cuts
Non-refundable lump-sum tax rebate 1.02
Refundable lump-sum tax rebate 1.26
Temporary tax cuts
payroll tax holiday 1.29
Across the board tax cut 1.03
Accelerated depreciation 0.27
Permanent tax cuts
Extend alternative minimum tax patch 0.48
Make Bush income tax cuts permanent 0.29
Make dividend and capital gains tax cuts permanent 0.37
Cut in corporate tax rate 0.30
Spending Increases
Extending UI benefits 1.64
Temporary increase in food stamps 1.73
General aid to state governments 1.36
Increased infrastructure spending 1.59
Source: Moody's

Posted by: chefbrian2 | July 31, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

"Cut teacher salaries, not positions. Then you have money for Medicaid, Food Stamps and you still have your teachers."

You know, you cannot get the same level of teachers for $25k/year as you can for $65k/year. You may tell yourself that you're hiring the same number of teachers, but really, so what???

I've got an idea. Instead of using aluminum and titanium to build fighter aircraft, let's use nickel and tin instead. It's cheaper! Even better, we can build the wings out of balsa wood instead of metal!

Then we can pass legislation called "No fighter left behind" and demand that defense contractors continually improve the quality of their product, even while the government gives them less and less money. The magic of "competition" will ensure that this plan succeed.

Posted by: rick_desper | August 2, 2010 12:07 AM | Report abuse

There may be a good reason why the WaPo hired little Ezra after all. They're a bunch of "right wing corporate goons" according to most of the moonbats who post comments anyway.
So let's get Ezie to do the old "Reductio ad absurdum" thing.
Take all the so-called "progressive" ideas and extend them out into the ether until they collapse of their own stupid weight.

Most hard-working American families of limited means live on less than the SNAP allotments. It's because it's their OWN money and they have learned to use it wisely.

Posted by: parkbench | August 2, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse

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