Anti-hunger advocates fear the $193 billion reduction President Donald Trump proposes to the federal food stamp program over the next 10 years would hurt millions of needy Americans who rely on it for their daily sustenance.
They’re concerned too many individuals below the poverty line or who make barely enough to live on would either be denied food stamps or experience cuts in the average monthly allowance of $125.
More than 44 million Americans received food stamps last year under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which currently costs the government more than $70 billion annually.
JUST FIRST STEP
In the 27th Congressional District, which includes Niagara Falls and North Tonawanda, households in 2015 that received SNAP numbered 64,790 of a total 301,958, according to the American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Just over 28 percent of those homes had a resident age 60 or older; 42.1 percent had a family member under 18.
Over 2015, the survey said, 58 percent of the district’s population fell below the poverty level.
YOUNG AND OLD
But should Trump prevail, said Patricia Baker, a policy analyst at the Law Reform Institute in Massachusetts, older people will be hit hardest.
She said some would be forced to skip meals, cut back on medications or fall behind on their utility bills in a state that’s considered the second-most expensive in the nation for the elderly.
Georgia could lose as much as $666 million a year in food stamp assistance under the Trump proposal, according to Melissa Johnson, senior policy analyst with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.
If that holds, she said, hungry children from low-income families would experience trouble learning in school.
Even some Republicans and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, a farmer and former Georgia governor whose agency administers the food stamp program, hardly sound enthused about the proposed cuts.
Agriculture Department spokeswoman Nina Anand said Congress will likely modify the president’s budget request and so it is difficult to gauge the precise impact of the food stamp program reduction.
But, she added, “there is no point in sugar coating” the matter — that the department would have to live with a reduced budget and less money for the food stamps.
Trump’s budget anticipates an improved economy would result in fewer individuals in need of food stamps. It is also grants far fewer work requirement waivers to able-bodied adults without dependents — a cohort the conservative Heritage Foundation estimates at four million recipients.
Human service advocates say it could kick more people off the program who cannot find work in regions ranging from struggling coal industry states like West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio to hard-pressed fishing communities in Massachusetts and other coastal states.
Rachael Kostelac, a spokeswoman for Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services, said a further complication is Trump’s overall budget plan that shifts more of the cost of Medicaid and other welfare programs like home heating assistance to the states.
Kostelac said Trump also wants to eliminate a provision allowing states to give food stamps to individuals with incomes twice the poverty level.
He said that would hurt lower middle-class families burdened with health care and child care costs.
According to the federal Agriculture Department, the number of people on food stamps has been declining since reaching a peak of 47.6 million in 2013.
Last year 44.2 million people received the benefit, but that was still much higher than the 26.5 million who received food stamps in 2006 before the recession.
“Despite improvements in unemployment since the recession ended, SNAP participation remains persistently high,” Trump’s budget proposal said.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said reduced federal spending is needed to lower the nation’s $20 trillion debt and yet “in Iowa, we have a lot of children who are food insecure.”