Food Stamp Bait and Switch

This post comes to us from Joanne Burke, PhD, RD. LD. Dr. Burke is the Thomas W Haas Professor in Sustainable Food Systems in the Sustainability Institute at the University of New Hampshire (UNH).

As advocates for fair wages and access to healthy food, we’re more than a little skeptical about Congressman Paul Ryan’s (R-WIS) plan to address poverty in America. 

Ryan’s pitch includes life coaches for those on assistance. 
Just before the house recessed at the end of July, the House Budget
Committee Chairman republican leader (and the former
vice-presidential nominee with Mitt Romney) released his plan, which, u
nder the cover of 
Opportunity Grants, proposes
combining 11 key safety net programs, leaving the states to determine how the
funds will be divided.

Let’s examine just one program identified for inclusion in
the Opportunity Grants bundle, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
(SNAP). Presently, SNAP is an entitlement program. Anyone who meets the
stringent eligibility requirements can be enrolled. For example, in the
continental United States, if you were a family of four, and after review of
your application and standard deductions, your net annual income was below
$23,850 (100% of the Health and Human Services poverty guideline) your family
would be deemed eligible to participate. Pretty straightforward. 

SNAP participation in U.S. 2010-2012. Image courtesy of Joanne Burke. 

Under a Block Grant
structure however, inclusion in SNAP would be based on arbitrary state based limits:
states would be allowed to decide what programs get funding and at what level. 
Many fisherman and family farm operations have incomes that are low enough that they qualify for SNAP food assistance, but they could be out of luck depending on the amount of funding and potential changes in eligibility based on decisions that will now made at the state level.

Additionally, there are over 47 million Americans classified as working poor . Some earn above the SNAP criteria, but routinely struggle
make ends meet and put food on the table. Ryan’s plan doesn’t address this level of economic instability and 
food insecurity
Given that a majority of the 11 programs Ryan proposes to
combine involve food and housing assistance, combining funding into one
resource will likely lead advocates for decent housing pitted against advocates
for adequate food.
Historically, the bundling of programs has led to
less overall funding for the programs that are put under one funding source. 

The Block Grant structure Ryan proposes has the very real potential of undermining funding for safety net programs that are already
inadequate to meet the escalating demands in this country.

It is this escalating demand for assistance that needs to be
interrogated and addressed.
than Block Grants, we need a comprehensive commitment to economic
policies and practices that result in
livable wage jobs designed to help address
the structural causes of poverty
in our country. 

The call is for a
comprehensive community approach that invests in people, communities and our
collective future. This vision includes jobs and business opportunities that provide equal pay
for equal work and incomes that reflect the work performed, not pay based upon race or gender.

Ryan’s “Opportunity Grant” is a bait and switch program that provides
multiple opportunities to shortchange our most vulnerable Americans and divert
efforts to address the root causes of poverty. The tough work ahead is
designing strategies that are focused on building an equitable economy and just

The need for the myriad of public assistance programs will naturally
decline when more Americans are able to more fully participate in
  a more just, robust and equitable

Joanne Burke, PhD, RD. LD is the Thomas W Haas Professor in
Sustainable Food Systems in the Sustainability Institute at the University of New
Hampshire (UNH). Her work with UNH Food Solutions New England includes state
and regional food system planning and efforts focused on food system justice
and equity. She is also Director of the UNH Dietetic Internship in the UNH
Nutrition Program.