It’s hard to think of a safety-net program in the US that’s been more unpopular of late than food stamps (officially, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP). Republican lawmakers have voted for all but eliminating the program, presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich tried to use it as a wedge to criticize President Obama and Florida legislators are up in arms that somebody on food stamps might dare buy cookies.
Besides being good political fodder for Republicans, though, it turns out that food stamps are good for something eles: keeping Americans out of poverty. According to a new report by the Department of Agriculture, food stamps reduced poverty by 4.4% and reduced the severity of poverty by 13.2%. These statistics are even more striking with regards to child poverty; according to the report, “SNAP benefits had a particularly strong effect on child poverty, reducing its depth by an average of 15.5 percent and its severity by an average of 21.3 percent.”
Although the welfare system in the U.S. has been completely gutted in the past decades, and millions suffer as a result, there is at least one effective program that can remove some of the hardship of poverty. Since it has such a strong effect of children — who cannot be blamed by even the most heartless pundit for their plight — one might think that SNAP would even be popular among Republicans. Unfortunately, no. The New York Times reports that, when presented with the Department of Agriculture findings, GOP Congressman Allen West (FL) wrote, “This is not something we should be proud to promote.”
But if not food stamps, then what? Tax cuts for rich people, what Republicans would undoubtedly suggest, aren’t super effective at helping anyone besides rich people. Some might even suggest that there is a cycle of poverty — that taking away means-tested benefits would actually incentivize people to work hard, and that this would instill the values of hard work in poor children.
Not surprisingly, though, taking away benefits means that a lot more people live in poverty. Moreover, increasing food stamp benefits actually lifts children out of poverty. It seems intuitive that one of the best ways of making sure kids succeed is making sure that have enough food on the table (for starters). Hopefully, Congress learns this before it’s too late.
Photo credit: clemintine gallot.