Policy Resource

Proposed SNAP Cuts Would Undermine Key Building Block for Healthy Kids

Oct 18, 2012

In approving its version of the Farm Bill on July 12 by a lopsided vote of 35-11, the House Agriculture Committee included $16.5 billion in proposed cuts over ten years to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that, as a result of these cuts, nearly 3 million people would lose their SNAP benefits and close to 300,000 children would lose their automatic eligibility for free school lunch programs tied to receiving SNAP benefits. Due to the recession, an all-time high of 45 million Americans currently rely on SNAP benefits to provide nutritious food for themselves and their families. These proposed cuts to SNAP would adversely affect millions of the most vulnerable members of our society, including hundreds of thousands of children.

SNAP increases the food purchasing power of low-income households, enabling them to obtain a more nutritious diet by preparing food at home. SNAP benefits are particularly important to vulnerable populations such as young children and older adults. 49% of all households receiving SNAP benefits have children, 16% percent of households receiving SNAP benefits have a disabled family member, and 15% have senior citizens on fixed incomes.

Access to good nutrition is particularly important to young children, and 16% of SNAP recipients are under age 5. Research shows that families with children under 6 have higher rates of food insecurity—a frequent companion to poverty—than those with older children. Good health and nutrition is the foundation from which young children grow and develop physically, cognitively, emotionally, and socially. Adequate nutrition, starting before birth, is a key building block for this healthy development.Children’s HealthWatch has found that compared to young children in families that were likely eligible but not receiving SNAP, young children whose families receive SNAP are less likely to be underweight or at risk for developmental delays.

SNAP is a lifeline for families in tough economic times. 41% of SNAP households have a working family member, but are still unable to make ends meet. 85% of households receiving SNAP have income levels below the Federal poverty line ($18,350 for a family of three), even before allowable expenses are deducted to calculate their net income used to determine eligibility for benefits. SNAP assistance often provides a temporary boost to ensure families have enough to eat until they can get back on their feet financially. The average length of time a SNAP recipient receives benefits is 9 months and the program has a payment error rate of only 3.81%. The SNAP program is temporary, effective, and for many families, essential.

Debbie Palacios, a former SNAP recipient and volunteer for The Food Stamp Outreach at a New Jersey food bank, has had to apply for benefits again since her husband lost his job due to injury. Speaking recently on the MSNBC program “Up w/ Chris Hayes”, Debbie said that SNAP benefits are crucial for her to be able to give her children nutritious meals. This supplemental assistance, though not large in amount (on average a monthly benefit of $133.79 per individual and $289.61 per household), is the only factor standing between tens of millions of people and hunger. According to Debbie, millions of families simply cannot get by without the benefits. “They need the help. And if it’s not there I can’t imagine what would happen”. She went on to say that many people are ashamed because they must apply for the benefits, but there is no other choice. While working at the outreach program, Debbie couldn’t help but notice the shame many felt when coming in to apply for benefits. “All their pride is gone. They don’t want to ask for assistance, but they need it to feed their children”.

The program’s elasticity is its key strength: it automatically expands to meet increased need when the economy is in recession and contracts when the economy is growing. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, after unemployment insurance, SNAP has historically been the most responsive federal program in assisting families during economic downturns. The recent recession has been no exception; the growth in caseloads reflects the fact that more households were eligible because of the economic downturn, and the states that were hardest hit by the recession saw the largest caseload increases.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this growth in SNAP spending is temporary. As economic conditions improve, the number of people using SNAP benefits will decrease accordingly. In fact, SNAP benefits help to keep the current economic situation from worsening, and benefit cuts will exacerbate our economic problems. According to Moody’s Analytics, during a recession every dollar increase in SNAP benefits serves to generate $1.72 in economic activity. How can this be? Well, people use their benefits to buy food, which keeps grocers and restaurants in business, which in turn increases business for food manufacturers. According to a study done at The Center for American Progress, “each $1 billion spent by recipients enables nearly 14,000 Americans to find or keep their jobs. That means approximately 1 million workers were employed last year because of this program.”

The proposed cuts to SNAP carry vast economic and health ramifications, particularly for young children. Early and sustained exposure to environmental stresses like inadequate nutrition can negatively impact this development, resulting in children who are less successful in school and less productive in the labor force. Children’s HealthWatch has dubbed the program “the SNAP vaccine.” They point out that every day, pediatric health providers use immunizations to protect children from diseases that make them sick. While hunger and food insecurity endanger the bodies and brains of millions of children, we already have the immunization needed to decrease these negative effects: adequate, healthy food—a treatment available through SNAP. As more and more young children are in families that are becoming food insecure, protecting the dosage of this widely used “vaccine” needs to be a priority.

It is hard to imagine that in a nation with an abundance of food, struggling families would lose this nutritional lifeline. Yet, the Senate Farm Bill passed earlier in the summer also would cut SNAP, although its $4.5 billion chop is less severe than the House bill. The good news for these families is that the House Committee bill’s progress has stalled, in part because of divisions over whether the cuts are deep enough. Now, time is running out on this session of Congress. While Congress may simply extend the program for some period of time, SNAP is still in jeopardy over the long term.

Infant-toddler advocates need to bring their perspective to efforts aimed at letting their Members of Congress know that this is not the time to take food from families knocked down by the recession—and especially not from their young children. They wouldn’t think of taking away access to immunizations against measles or mumps. Why would they consider taking away the SNAP vaccine against hunger and its devastating effects on young bodies and brains?


Congressional Budget Office (2012). The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Retrieved on July 25, 2012 from http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/04-19-SNAP.pdf.

Larsen, J. (Executive Producer). (2012, July 14). Up With Chris Hayes. New York City: MSNBC. Available Online at http://upwithchrishayes.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/07/14/12741900-the-decades-long-debate-over-food-stamps?lite .

Lavallee, A. (June 24, 2011). Fact vs. Fiction: USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Program. USDA Blog. Retrieved on July 24, 2012 from http://blogs.usda.gov/2011/06/24/fact-vs-fiction-usda%E2%80%99s-supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program/ .

Thompson, J., Garret-Peltier, H. (2012). The Economic Consequences of Cutting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The Center for American Progress. Retrieved on July 24th, 2012 from http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2012/03/pdf/snap_report.pdf.

Eslami, E., Filion, K., and Strayer, M. Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Households: Fiscal Year 2010. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Office of Research and Analysis, 2011.

Children’s HealthWatch. The SNAP Vaccine: Boosting Children’s Health. Children’s HealthWatch, 2012, www.childrenshealthwatch.org.

Center on the Developing Child, A Science-Based Framework for Early Childhood Policy: Using Evidence to Improve Outcomes in Learning, Behavior, and Health for Vulnerable Children. Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University, 2007, http://www.developingchild.harvard.edu/ .

  • Author

    Patricia A. Cole

    Senior Director of Federal Policy


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