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April 25, 2011

Please Sir, I Want Some More!

Harold Pollack

 Representative Ryan’s proposed budget is so extreme regarding Medicare, Medicaid, and tax policy that its other, often equally extreme features receive too little attention.

Jonathan Cohn addresses one of these provisions today, in a detailed article appropriately called The Republicans’ Really Thin Gruel. The proposal to sharply cut and block-grant federal food stamps—more properly now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

As Cohn relates:

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, if the states decided to react primarily by thinning the benefits for everybody, the maximum benefit would equal 88 percent of the the “Thrifty Food Plan”--the government’s estimate of what a typical family would need to pay for a “bare-bones, nutritionally adequate diet.” In 2012, a family of three would lose $116 a month, while a family of four would lose $147 a month.

If, instead, the government implemented the cut entirely by reducing eligibility for the program, SNAP would serve 8 million fewer people over the next ten years. That’s an awful lot of people. In fact, the Center reports, it’s roughly equal to cutting off SNAP assistance for the 30 smallest states in the country over that time span. (In case you’re wondering, those 30 states would be Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, the Virgin Islands, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.) 

Republicans place these SNAP reforms under the rubric of "welfare reform," with the usual implication that these benefits foster a culture of dependency. That's an odd argument to make about a program that does so much for the working poor people and their children enduring the deepest recession the nation has seen in many decades.

There may be a better expression of Republicans Dickensian worldview. I can't think of one. I'm not sure what Jonathan has planned next in this series. All I can say is, "Please sir...."

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