From the comments, on the economics of food stamps

In response to my earlier food stamps post, here is Brian Donahue:


Economic conditions have been improving, grudingly, for three years now. But between October 2010 and October 2013, the cost of the program has risen 25%. I understand the concept of ‘countercyclical stabilizers’. This is something else. The idea of a 10% cut in this context…ok.

Food stamps aren’t being singled out here. Just because entitlement reform is paralyzingly hard, it doesn’t mean we don’t keep moving on the other stuff. Summing up 2013: fiscal cliff tax increases on rich, medicare investment tax on the rich, ending payroll tax holiday, sequester (half defense.) Republicans are playing ball – at some point along the way, food stamps get a look. If a 10% cut here is a sacred cow, we’re not close to having the stomach for the real fights to come.

And here is PLW:

Explaining the Rs food stamp focus is a little more complicated. First of all, labeling the House nutrition title of the Farm Bill as “going after” the program seems unfair. The House food stamp proposals include uncoupling categorical eligibility for food stamps with receipt of a trivial non-cash TANF benefit (a technique used by many states to waive all asset requirements for food stamps and raise the net income test to twice the poverty line), getting rid of a loophole (i.e., “LIHEAP loophole”) that a small number of states in the (primarily in the Northeast) use to artificially reduce the net income of food stamp beneficiaries in order to raise their level of benefits, and taking away the Secretary of USDA’s work requirement waiver authority for non-disabled adults without dependents.

Second (and this is where it gets complicated), many of the policies that the Rs are pushing in the context of the Farm Bill are going after policies that were put in place as direct result or an unintended consequence of other R policies. For instance, the coupling of categorical eligibility to non-TANF cash benefits is the result of the 1996 welfare reforms which ended AFDC (how one used to become categorically eligible for food stamps) in replace of a much less clear TANF benefit (rather than cash linked to AFDC, one might receive a service in the form of a 1-800 hotline for pregnancy prevention linked to TANF), but continued to bestow eligibility for food stamps to the recipients of AFDC’s successor. At the same time, the 2002 Farm Bill streamlined eligibility by creating a number of state options for food stamps with the intention of pacifying the states who were getting penalized for having high food stamp error rates (those same error rates the USDA now brags about) as the result of having more food stamp participants with earned income as the result of the 1996 welfare reforms (i.e., administratively, it’s more difficult to assign benefits to people with earned income rather than unearned income… especially if those low-income people are in and out of work through the course of a month).


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