House Republicans Propose To Cut and Cap Food Assistance for Low-Income Californians

One of the programs on the House Republicans’ target list for deep cuts in federal fiscal year (FFY) 2012 and beyond is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the nation’s primary anti-hunger program formerly known as food stamps. The House Republicans’ budget blueprint for FFY 2012, which is expected to be approved this week, would slash SNAP funding by $127 billion over 10 years and convert the program to a block grant. These changes would require California to scale back federally funded food assistance that currently assists more than 3.5 million low-income Californians through the state’s CalFresh Program. Specifically, the House budget resolution would:

  • Cut SNAP funding by $127 billion between FFYs 2012 and 2021. House Republicans propose to cut SNAP funding by nearly 20 percent compared to the level needed to support projected enrollment over the next 10 years. California’s share of this reduction would amount to roughly $10 billion, according to estimates developed by our colleagues at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). That’s $10 billion that wouldn’t be available for low-income families to spend in grocery stores throughout California to help keep food on their tables. The CBPP notes that, “policymakers could not possibly achieve cuts of this magnitude without scaling back SNAP eligibility or reducing benefits deeply.” As a result, California would be forced to drop hundreds of thousands of low-income Californians from CalFresh or reduce benefits by hundreds of dollars per year for each family in the program.
  • Convert SNAP funding to a block grant. In addition to the funding cut, House Republicans propose to convert SNAP funding to a block grant beginning in FFY 2015. California would receive a capped amount of federal funding each year to support CalFresh benefits, which would largely eliminate the program’s ability to respond to increased need for food assistance during a recession. CalFresh quickly expanded – as intended – to fill the rising need for food assistance during the Great Recession as California workers lost jobs and income and struggled to feed their families. The number of CalFresh recipients increased from 2.0 million in April 2007, just before the economic downturn began in California, to more than 3.5 million in November 2010, with the fastest growth occurring in 2009 and early 2010. The block grant envisioned by House Republicans would prevent CalFresh from similarly expanding to meet increased need during future economic downturns, unless California used state dollars to supplement capped federal funding, an unlikely prospect given the state’s ongoing budget difficulties.

California’s safety net for low-income families is already dangerously frayed due to years of state budget cuts, including billions of dollars in reductions approved by the Legislature this year to help close the state’s $26.6 billion budget gap. Cutting and capping federal funding for SNAP – a cornerstone of the nation’s safety net for low-income Americans since the 1960s – would likely be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

— Scott Graves

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