Last week House Republicans voted to cut benefits to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, slashing $39 billion in benefits over the next ten years in a vote of 217 to 210. All members of the Democratic caucus voted against the bill, which would affect 4 million people.
In June, fiscal conservatives squashed the Farm Bill that would have cut spending by $20 billion over ten years after determining the decrease was too meager. This new bill is their response to that. If successful, half of the cuts will put a stop to food aid after three months to people between 18 and 50 with no minors living with them if they are unable to find work, a move that makes little sense.
Poverty and health are inextricably linked, and food security plays a central role in this. Not only does poverty affect a family’s ability to buy food, it prevents them from buying healthy food. In the United States, lower income individuals are more likely to be obese, putting a strain on the healthcare system. Currently, beneficiaries of SNAP are eligible for SNAP-Ed, a nutrition education program designed to promote healthy eating on a limited budget. It is unclear how these cuts will affect SNAP-Ed.
African-Americans, no strangers to health inequalities, will be disproportionately affected by this change if successful. A new study shows that 90 percent of African-Americans benefitted from food stamps at one point or another in their lives. One in four African-American households faces food insecurity, and make up about 23% of all SNAP recipients.
House Majority Leader Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.) cited abuse of the system as constraining the cuts. Many have also pointed to a widely circulated Fox News special investigation into SNAP fraud using Jason Greenslate, a self proclaimed surfer living in California, as their spokesperson.
It remains unclear how the $40 billion in cuts will prevent abuse of the system. An estimated 14.5% of American households were food insecure last year, and one in seven Americans use SNAP. Working families with children currently make up 72% of SNAP beneficiaries. Children are particularly vulnerable to hunger, which, with 22% of all children live below the poverty line, is a significant issue in America.
The most vulnerable households with children will likely be unaffected, but hundreds of thousands will be see their benefits reduced. Many view the passing of this bill as proof that House Republicans are out of touch with poverty in America.
Lua Wilkinson, MA, RD, CDN is a PhD student in Nutrition at Cornell University, where she studies digital social networks in the promotion of maternal and child nutrition globally. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Tea Leaf Nation, The China Beat, Savage Minds, and Asia Healthcare Blog.