Ryan Budget to Cut Food Assistance for Poor

Paul Ryan's budget plan, which he has dubbed the "Path to Prosperity" will significantly cut nutritional assistance to the poor over the next 10 years.

An analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities revealed that US House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's proposed budget would cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funding by $127 billion over ten years.

The SNAP program, once known as "food stamps" is targeted at low-income families who require help meeting basic dietary needs.

Ryan's proposal is hardly surprising, given the behavior and demands of the Republicans leading up to the last budget agreement.

While Ryan claims that the plan is "protecting assistance for those in need," the reality is that the plan would create block grants and place time limits on SNAP, the nation's most effective nutritional safety net. SNAP expenditures increased in the last several years not because the program was spinning out of control, but rather because families hit hard by the recession required temporary assistance.

The $127 billion dollar cut will serve to "throw millions of low-income families off the rolls, cut benefits by thousands of dollars a year, or some combination of the two." according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Ryan has failed to give offer details on how the cuts would be reached, or the timing of the proposed cuts.

While it is likely that Ryan is proposing block grants in order to push off tough decisions on to the states, it is clear that eligibility for SNAP and benefits will most likely both be impacted.

The Center explains that if cuts in eligibility were the only tool used, more than 8 million people would be cut from the program, assuming cuts began in 2012. If cuts were pushed back to 2015, 10 million people would need to be cut from the program to achieve the required savings.

If benefits were targeted as a way to achieve the cuts (without changing eligibility requirements), the maximum SNAP benefit would  be set a 88% of the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) - the USDA estimate for a basic, nutritionally adequate diet. This means that the average family of four on SNAP would see their benefits cut by $147 per month, or $1,764 annually.

The SNAP program does not contribute to the nation's long-term budget problem, as the program is expected to grow no faster than the economy does.

The SNAP program primarily serves the very poor, seniors, children, and the disabled. Over 40% of SNAP households live below half the poverty line.

It is important to note that these SNAP cuts do not take place within a vacuum. The Ryan budget would gut Medicare, Medicaid, housing support, and educational assistance programs that primarily help the poor and middle class.

Creating a sustainable food system requires all citizens to have access to basic nutritional assistance. In the US, this goal is becoming increasingly difficult to reach.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore