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September 15, 2014

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Congress wants to spend less, and Nevadans on food stamps likely to notice

Thirteen percent of Nevadans beware: In the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, your monthly food stamp allowance is set to shrink. And depending on what happens in Congress, food stamps for some Nevadans might disappear.

Before disbanding for a regularly scheduled weeklong recess in honor of Memorial Day, Congress spent much of May working on the Farm Bill. As its title suggests, the legislation regulates matters of interest to farmers, such as crop insurance, rural development and market access.

But it is also the vehicle for setting food stamp policy, and Republicans and Democrats have marked differences over how the program should be run — and where it should be cut.

SNAP Food Stamp Challenge

Alex Karvounis, his wife Stephanie Deppensmith, and daughter Harper Karvounis, 22 months, go grocery shopping at Walmart Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012. The family is part of a program where people to try to live on what a person on food stamps lives on. Launch slideshow »

Members of both parties have identified areas to trim the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Under the Democrats' plan in the Senate, cuts would amount to about $4 billion over 10 years; under the Republicans’ plan in the House, they would amount to about $21 billion over the same period.

That may not seem like an enormous chop for a program that ran a fiscal year 2012 bill of almost $78.5 billion, according to USDA figures, but considering that the average American family on food stamps receives just $3,342 per year in benefits, the reach of such cuts is significant.

“It would undercut what we are trying to do in employment and training, which is so critical … to make sure supplemental nutrition assistance goes to families who have been working hard all their lives,” Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said last week of the Republicans’ more expansive measures to cut the program.

“I know people have different views, but I would say that this is certainly minimal,” Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said of the Democrats' more modest proposal. “We can restore integrity to the program while providing benefits to those truly in need and save. … Note that I say ‘while providing benefits to those truly in need.’”

Democrats and Republicans are approaching food stamp cuts categorically: Each party is trying to identify areas of eligibility that can be dialed back to realize savings while affecting the smallest number of families.

For instance, most Democrats and Republicans want to close a loophole that automatically approves food stamps for certain renters who receive a nominal amount of aid from the federal government’s low-income heating and cooling subsidy, even though they do not pay a heating bill. The grants are ostensibly to offset rents that are higher because the landlord takes anticipated bill charges into consideration. In practice, they are often abused for food stamp eligibility.

That program would not affect many Nevadans, where federal heating and cooling subsidies are a small fraction of what they are, for example, in New England.

But a second area for cuts in the Republican House version of the farm bill could affect several hundred Nevada families who receive food stamps.

Republicans want to cut the “categorical eligibility” qualification, which has allowed families who have modest assets — such as a car in rural areas – or earnings that put them above the SNAP limit of 130 percent of the poverty line to qualify for food stamps since 1996. Normally, SNAP disqualifies anyone with more than $2,000 in savings or other assets from receiving food assistance. The rationale of the categorical eligibility waiver is that the families who qualify still have disposable income.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington think tank, estimates that eliminating categorical eligibility would put 2 million SNAP recipients’ benefits in jeopardy, or about 4 percent of the total number of Americans participating in the program.

While USDA has not broken down how the proposed cuts would affect SNAP recipients state-by-state, it is a potentially serious concern for Nevada, which over the past few years experienced the second-fastest food stamp growth in the nation, reflecting the effect of the recession.

Nevada is one of 40 states and three U.S. territories that allow participation in the categorical-eligibility waiver. Nevada has some of the most generous gross income ceilings as well: Families with children may record income up to 200 percent of the poverty line and still qualify for food stamps. (Families and individuals without children, however, remain limited to the SNAP standard of 130 percent of the poverty line.)

So it would be families predominantly affected by the cut — and the cut could affect other benefits as well. SNAP eligibility can also determine eligibility for reduced-price school lunch programs.

The status of any proposed cuts is in limbo in Washington, where the Senate and House have yet to finish working on their respective farm bills and may push them off indefinitely to take up immigration legislation in June.

But even without any proactive changes to the program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that average food stamp benefits will drop by $25 per month when supplementary benefits that Congress approved in the 2009 stimulus bill expire Nov. 1.

That too, is a potentially serious concern to Nevadans. Though the cost of living in Nevada’s urban centers is high and dependency on food stamps is growing faster than the national average, Nevada’s monthly per-person and per-household food stamp benefits still remain below the national average: $123.35 compared with $133.41 per individual, and $258.81 compared with $278.48 per family.

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  1. "Only" an average of $3,342 per family? When you consider that some 47 million folks are receiving food stamps, it comes to a big bundle, doesn't it? Anyone out there really believe that 47 million are really that much in need or is this just another bloated and wasteful government handout in an effort, and a mighty successful one, at that, I might add, to buy votes? Certainly neighbors helping neighbors in a time of need is a worthy cause, but the requirements and length of time for receiving that aid must be tightened up and made more justifiable. But the Osama Obama administration and its fellow travelers have done just the opposite by not only making it easier to live off honest hardwoking citizens, it actually encourages it by advertising to get more & more parasites on it, including illegals. Enough already.

  2. How many people shop with a "smart phone" and pay with food stamps? A lot. Like so many things, we have gone over board. This program was set up so people would not go hungry and we have allow abuse. We have bar codes on everything now, make essentials the only thing that can be purchased with assistance. No potato chips, no candy, no steak. (I am almost inclined to say, no frozen pizza or snacks.) If necessary, have cooking classes. Bread, milk, eggs, cheese, butter, rice, beans, potatoes, chicken, turkey and hamburger. Got it. Yes, in my day, it was even powdered milk, but to think that a grocery cart ahead of me, filled with snacks, soda, pie and cake, paid for with EBT card, and the couple purchasing each have a cell phone that is better than mine, and they pull out a roll of cash to pay for hamster cage lining, pet food and clothes, just slays me.

  3. Hey David, check out the illegal Moms at the food banks with iphones, in heels and designer jeans, driving new SUV's. We already pay for free breakfast, free lunch, free summer meals AND groceries sent home with illegals and many other school-aged kids. Let's RETHINK FOOD STAMPS and allow that a single cooking alone needs a bit more "per person" than a family with more than 2 kids. We need to INSIST on some CORRELATION between government-funded (plus our donations) FOOD BANKS and EBT SNAP benefits. The BIG ESCAPE CLAUSE has been "emergency" situations. Just glance at craig's list and anywhere else and see all the "moms" that are trying to get out of an "abusive" situation and need our help again and again and again. Not enough that they pay no income taxes (or sales taxes) but get everything provided: housing vouchers, Medicaid, day care, food, bus passes, $1,000 in car repairs, free training..... Yes, it does NOT take a real high IQ to buy the bulk oatmeal, rice, beans instead of packaged ready-to-eat convenience food.

  4. Be CAREFUL--when "the government" says illegals don't get as many welfare benefits.....if they have at least ONE ANCHOR BABY, they get it all. If they CLAIM they have one anchor baby born here by BORROWING A BIRTH CERTIFICATE, they get it all. Many states (see California) accept the federal arm-twisting and just give them all the benies. Nevada gives out LIHEA free utilities to illegals and give nada to American seniors--by saying the benefits are based on "FAMILY SIZE" even if they're all illegals.

  5. I heard a pundit say that Mexico doesn't provide food stamps and you don't see people starving in the streets. I strongly sympathize with LONG-TERM unemployed CITIZENS. Americans over 40 or 50 who have limited opportunities to ever work again are those who need EBT SNAP. Enough of the toothless old ladies and men wandering around the weekly motels looking for day work, food, something to do.

  6. WARNING: The article discusses a LOOPHOLE where those receiving free utilities would automatically get free food stamps--vast numbers of illegal invaders there.

  7. An opiner (a little earlier) accuses and labels SNAP recipients as "Illegals." How does the commenter know they're "illegal"? This is blatant profiling. Obviously, some in NV have been found qualified (by current Law & Legislation)to be eligible for government help (not the commenters help). NV is not Arpaio territory (AZ) and the courts have spoken. Congress has been assigned the legal, moral,and Constitutional authority to decide how it helps the populace. If their decision is to cut, then they will Legislate cuts and we must support it. But to let personal bias and bathetic zeal let our tongues flap freely is really uncaring, cruel and nasty. Be nice now.

  8. So good to see Roberta and the usual suspects bringing back the Welfare Cadillac shtick. Ever really looked at the SNAP program closely.....the recipients get some food out of it but the big beneficiaries are the processed food companies and corporate farmers. You can buy all manner of chips, snacks and sugary cereal but try to buy fresh produce at a farmers market and see how well that goes down.

  9. These programs are suppose to be a safety net, not a lifestyle.

    For every person who receives without earning, another person had to earn without receiving.

  10. My son works incredibly hard, makes minimum wage, uses a track phone, and refuses to take money from any program out there. He was raised differently from those who live on programs as a lifestyle. It's time they change their lifestyle.

  11. Yes their is a lot of hate. I see all races on food stamps, & yes way too many.

  12. @ truthserum...Why is it that people who have no real interest in the "truth" love to give themselves names with the word truth in them?

    I seriously doubt your were denied an opportunity to vote anytime in your life, which makes your complaint that you are living in a "taxation with NO representation" state to wholly disingenuous.

    Almost as disingenuous as calling a program created buy a Republican president, and expanded to its current incarnation by another Republican president the "Obama-phone" program.

    @TomD1228...I never understood the mentality of making statements that are just not supported by the facts.The average family receiving government assistance actually has less kids than the average American family, and there is nothing to suggest that people are having more kids while receiving assistance.

    The next time you find yourself getting all bent out of shape about the amount of people on government assistance, just think back to when you were in Human Resource and would illegally discriminate against applicants. Perhaps if there weren't so many law breakers like you in charge of hiring, we would have less people unemployed

  13. READ and comprehend the article. AMERICAN seniors (with no young dependent children) can qualify for EBT SNAP up to 130% of the poverty level. YET we GIVE ILLEGALS food stamps (often because we're already giving them free utilities) when their income is 200% of the poverty level. So, we are FEEDING ILLEGALS while American seniors are cold (no utilities) and hungry. Who should have priority? Veterans and seniors who have worked and paid dues for years and years or illegals?

  14. Why is there no mention of cutting "farm" subsidies to millionaire "farmers" ?

  15. On account of seeing such irate readers here bashing "illegals," why don't you all get together, march on down to the Capital, demand to see the Legislators and ball them out. You all can save yourselves a bad case of GERD and other ailments. Such ardent fervor here will only fan others into a frenzy.

  16. This is NOT a "discussion"? This is a Jerry Springer Show" shouting match. Some comments aren't even hitting the gist of the article but seem to be "back-scratching each other. You dislike, do not condone, get irritated by or even hate Illegals...well then...vote for the man (or woman)that feels like you do.

  17. @FrenleyDem....c'mon Jess, you priced a pivot irrigator lately? and the combine needs replaced and, oh yeah, I gotta go another 400 ft on the main well since me and all the neighbors drew down the water table. Plus we're producing important crops like barley for Budweiser and styrofoam to make ChocoCrunchySugarBits cereal which is aimed at the po' folk market to help dentists buy Porsches.

  18. Suggestion: Tie welfare recipent's benefits to their child's or as is mostly the case, their children's grades in school!

    This just might improve student outcomes and motivation to do well, and it may keep the next generation from becoming welfare recipients themselves. A "revenue neutral" idea.

    Commenter TomD1228 observed, "When you have 50% of the teenage population in Las Vegas dropping out of school, what do you expect is going to happen to them? They are in the bottom barrel for employment opportunities. Forget a decent income because the majority will be working fast food or other menial type labor with no benefits, no health insurance and little to no chance for advancement. Once they procreate they've put themselves in the worst possible scenario...a lifetime of poverty and a reliance on welfare type backstop. 50%. Half, maybe more should not be having children. They have little chance to support themselves or any children they stupidly bring into this world."

    Go to any school that provides the Federal Free or Reduced Lunch Program, and notice the amounts of good, taxpayer funded, food items either partially eatten or tossed in the trash can unopened. That clearly is wrong. The Reason: Students are forced to take ALL mandated items each time they go through the line (breakfast and lunch), so this terrible waste goes on, thanks to government policy. That needs to change!

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star