The White House proposed a 2019 budget last month that makes steep cuts to one of the strongest lines of defense this country uses to fight hunger: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The proposal calls for slashing food assistance, commonly known as food stamps, by $213 billion over the next decade.
The plan is to withhold almost half of the benefit from households and package shelf-ready foods in a ration-style food box delivery program.
It also doubles down on the program’s already stringent work requirements that threaten Georgia’s 1.7 million SNAP recipients, especially childless adults who are subject to the program’s three-month eligibility time limit.
This could deliver a heavy blow to Georgians who rely on food assistance to feed themselves and their families. The details of the proposed changes lay out the hardship that might be in store for Georgia families.
The budget proposal cuts nearly half of a participants’ food stamps and replaces them with a box of non-perishable food, such as shelf-stable milk, ready-to-eat cereals, peanut butter, beans, and canned foods. Participants would have no say in the type of foods they receive and the quantity would vary depending on the household’s size and benefit amount. This switch to a monthly food box will cut up to $26 billion in revenue to grocers. This will hurt communities the most where SNAP participants are the majority of grocery buyers. Small shops in rural parts of the state account for the majority of Georgia’s 10,204 SNAP-authorized retailers.
Unemployed able-bodied adults without dependents who receive food assistance are required to find a job within three months of starting the program. States can request to waive the work requirements for recipients in areas where the unemployment rate is 20 percent or more above the national average. The proposed budget restricts time-limit waivers to areas where the unemployment rate is at least 10 percent. Under these restrictions, only 0.8 percent of the country will qualify for waivers in 2018. Up to 700,000 poor unemployed people nationally stand to lose access to SNAP benefits.
Georgia canceled the waiver for many counties since the recession ended and re-imposed the work requirement. In 2017, 24 Georgia counties were subject to the time limit. Once the time limit resumed in these counties last year, nearly 7,000 childless adults fell off the SNAP rolls. The pending budget plan might force Georgia to impose time limits on even more counties, threatening food stamp access for thousands more in the state.
Other major cuts
The budget threatens to impose the three-month time limit on unemployed people up to age 62. Now only people between the ages of 18 and 49 are affected. In Georgia, 18 percent of SNAP recipients are elderly or disabled.
Also at risk is an option called categorical eligibility that states use to support working families while maintaining incentives to work. This policy allows states to raise the income cutoff for SNAP eligibility, which helps avoid an abrupt cut off of food assistance. This is particularly crucial for the nearly 546,900 working Georgians whose incomes are rising but still use food stamps to feed their families and make ends meet.
The proposal will penalize large families if it passes by restricting food assistance to households of six or less, cutting benefits to many families with several children or grandparents living with them. The effect is to severely limit food access to additional household members.
Thousands of Georgians living in poverty stand to lose the benefit’s already meager $5 a day for food.
Aside from loss of individual support, these cuts would hollow out the potential of the $2.54 billion that SNAP contributes to Georgia’s economy.
Perhaps the budget proposal’s greatest impact is it portends increased hunger for people who are suddenly unable to get food assistance through no fault of their own.