Here's how federal cuts to food stamps are going to hurt New Yorkers

Ron Deutsch (right) is the executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute and Jesse Laymon is the policy director of the NYC Employment and Training Coalition

Here's how federal cuts to food stamps are going to hurt New Yorkers

Making people go hungry won’t help them find jobs
May 17, 2018

Last year, House Republicans and President Donald Trump spent months trying to cut healthcare before giving up and moving on to corporate tax cuts. This month, they seem to have re-discovered their zeal for life-threatening cuts, but instead of threatening our healthcare, they’re threatening our food. 
Earlier this month, the House Agriculture Committee released their proposal for the 2018 Farm Bill, the piece of legislation that funds food and agriculture programs. The proposal would slash over $17 billion from the anti-hunger safety net, primarily targeting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, our nation’s most effective anti-hunger program. It will  make it harder for more than 2 million people to put food on the table by taking away or reducing SNAP benefits from struggling Americans including people with disabilities, parents raising kids and working people.

Over 2.9 million New Yorkers (or 15 percent of the state population) use SNAP to feed their families, lifting them out of poverty and towards economic or educational opportunity. More than 1.1 million NY children receive SNAP every year, reducing their risk of hunger and likelihood of malnutrition.
The House Farm Bill cuts SNAP benefits and diverts much of that money to a risky new scheme of ineffective work programs and unforgiving penalties that would take food assistance away from those who don’t meet sweeping, expanded work requirements. The bill’s supporters claim that by threatening to take food away from unemployed and underemployed Americans, they’ll incentivize those Americans to find new jobs and earn enough money to afford their own food.
The ideology behind these proposed cuts is not only heartless, it flies in the face of the facts. The facts are: people who get SNAP and can work - do work. Among families receiving SNAP, almost 75 percent have at least one adult who has worked in the past year. Many SNAP recipients work in low-wage jobs where pay is low, benefits are scarce, and hours are unpredictable. They could lose SNAP if they don’t get enough hours to meet the requirement or if they get sick or need to care for a sick child and end up losing their job.

These new requirements ignore evidence-based policymaking about what it takes to help unemployed people living in poverty gain meaningful work.   Programs funded under the Federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) actually get at the real barriers faced by jobseekers - a shortfall of vital education and marketable skills demanded by employers. Not to mention we should also wait to see the results of 10 pilot projects funded in the 2014 Farm Bill designed to help SNAP participants find and keep good jobs.

If many jobseekers don’t have a high school degree and lack math skills above the 6th-grade level, the best way to help them gain jobs that can pay the bills isn’t to take away their dinner; it’s to enroll them in adult education courses and provide them with guided career coaching. 

If other jobseekers can’t find a job that works with their schedule because they’re also caring for a sick relative or child, the solution isn’t to deny them breakfast, it’s to pair their job search with job supports that help cover the costs of daycare or senior care. 

In short, if leaders in Washington want to do something about the millions of Americans left behind by the modern economy, they should look at supporting programs that directly address the workforce needs of today’s businesses, not waste their time cutting programs that provide necessary nutrition.
Some in Washington understand these common-sense facts. This week, senators from both parties began suggesting that kicking millions of Americans off SNAP wouldn’t fly in their chamber. It’s time for House members to follow suit and wake up to the reality that taking food assistance away from their constituents is at best bad public policy and at worst cruel and unusual punishment.

Jesse Laymon
Jesse Laymon
is the policy director of the NYC Employment and Training Coalition
Ron Deutsch
Ron Deutsch
is the executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute.