PD Editorial: The safety net continues to shrink

One in seven households has less food on the table this week.

That's about 47 million people who rely on food stamps to supplement their meals. More than 20 million of them are children. Millions more are seniors, disabled or working at low-wage jobs. About 5,000 are in the armed services.

As of Friday, they were told to get by on less.

For a family of four, the maximum benefit is now $632 a month, a reduction of $36. For an average recipient, food stamps now provide less than $1.40 per meal.

The cutbacks marked the end of the stimulus program enacted after the economy collapsed five years ago. Despite ample evidence of ongoing need, even deeper cuts are on the horizon.

That's hardhearted social policy. It's bad economic policy, too.

When food stamps are redeemed at grocery stores, farmer's markets and other retailers, there is a ripple effect across the community. Every dollar of food stamps "creates at least about $1.70 in economic activity," a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted.

This first round of cuts will take $5.5 billion out of a still sluggish U.S. economy, including $457 million in California, where 11 percent of the population qualifies for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the formal name for the food stamp program.

But there may be more.

In June, the Senate approved a farm bill with $4.5 billion in cuts to food stamps over 10 years. House Republicans are pressing for even deeper cuts — about $39 billion over 10 years. They split food stamps from the farm bill after people objected to increasing subsidies for growers — including several members of Congress — while cutting a safety net program for the poor. Several states also are moving to tighten eligibility rules, potentially removing millions of people from the program.

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