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Rob Horowitz: Food Stamps Are the Wrong Political Football

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Cutting support for the SNAP program would be a unwise move, according to Rob Horowitz.

House Republicans continue to refuse to pass the Farm Bill unless it contains a $4 billion cut in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more popularly known as food stamps. This significant decrease in food assistance to needy families would come on top of the recent end of a temporary boost in the program mandated by the 2009 Recovery Act. Taken, together, this one-two punch threatens some of our nation’s most vulnerable families and individuals’ capacity to put healthy meals on the table.

The overwhelming majority of people who receive SNAP assistance are “children, elderly individuals, or persons with disabilities”, according to the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project. Contrary to engrained stereotypes, the majority of adults receiving food stamps—who are able to work—work. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities reports that ‘more than 80 percent of SNAP households have monthly income below the federal poverty line ($19,500 a year for a family of three), and more than 40 percent live in deep poverty, with income below halfof the poverty line.

Republican shortsightedness

It is the case, as Republicans point out, that food stamp usage has increased with nearly 50 million Americans now receiving SNAP assistance, including 17% of Rhode Island and 13% of Massachusetts residents. The program now costs more than $70 billion annually. However, this is not surprising given the Great Recession, and a so far tepid recovery that is creating mainly low wage new jobs. If past history is any guide, as the economy improves, food stamp use will taper off.

Cutting SNAP assistance now is the textbook definition of penny-wise and pound foolish. As the Hamilton Project points out, every $5 in new SNAP benefits generates as much as $9 in spending and economic activity. This is the kind of counter-cyclical program designed to provide a boost to the economy during difficult times.

The bigger picture

Most importantly, providing food assistance ensures that children are adequately fed and prevents the costly and sometimes permanent consequences of childhood hunger and poor nutrition. The results include lower rates of diabetes and other illnesses. Further, recent research demonstrates that women with access to SNAP during childhood experience more adult success including lower drop-out rates and higher earnings.

Of course, the program can be improved. Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, Professor of Human Development and Social Policy at Northwestern University, recently proposed a number of sensible reforms including incentives for purchasing fruits and vegetables and eliminating any penalties for working.

But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. This essential anti-hunger program is working mainly as designed. The bottom line in a nation as wealthy as ours: none of our kids should go hungry.


Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


Related Slideshow: New England States Battle Over Jobs

Here are several examples of business and job raiding by and against New England states, according to the Good Jobs First report,

Shell Game: Ending the Wasteful Practice of Subsidizing Companies that Move Jobs From One State to Another


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States pirating other states for existing businesses and jobs is nothing new.

The 1950s saw heightened concern about the growing number of footloose companies that were abandoning long-standing industrial locations in the north to take advantage of benefits being offered by states such as Mississippi. Then-Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts decried southern “raiding,” especially in the textile industry. Organized labor took notice. In 1955, then-named American Federation of Labor published a pamphlet with the title “Subsidized Industrial Migration: The Luring of Plants to New Locations.”

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In Massachusetts, the free market-oriented Pioneer Institute likened interstate lures to “playing the lottery” in examining the National Establishment Time-Series Database for 1990-2007.

Although the Bay State has had a small net loss of jobs to interstate moves, it loses and gains jobs from mostly the same states (New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut all rank in the top 5 for both directions). In addition to some cautionary findings about the Bay State’s trends, the Institute concluded, “The majority of establishments that moved to the state did not receive special incentives from the state to do so. Therefore, public thinking and public policy with respect to economic development should be reoriented to place less emphasis on interstate relocation.”

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Ballooning state-budget deficits are costing millions of jobs, affecting every state, with no regard for region or corporate tax or incentive regimens.

For example, a study of job loss due to the growing trade deficit with China names New Hampshire, California, Massachusetts, Oregon, North Carolina, Minnesota, Colorado and Texas among the 10 most affected states - proportionally, and in that order. That should be a sobering fact for states such as New Hampshire (that so shamelessly pirates jobs from Mass.) and Texas (that openly lures companies from Mass. and other states).

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Several states have rules prohibiting subsidies for intrastate job relocations. Among them, are two in New England:

  • Connecticut:

o Enterprise Zone and Urban Jobs Tax Credits

o Urban and Industrial Site Reinvestment Tax Credit

  • Maine:

o Employment Tax Increment Financing

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Several states have major state-subsidy programs with restrictions on intrastate job shifting. Among them, are two in New England:

  • Rhode Island:

o Corporate-income tax-rate reduction for job creation

o Enterprise-zone tax credits

  • Vermont:

o Economic-advancement tax incentives

o Employment-growth incentives

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In 2011, the Boston Globe published a profile of the State of New Hampshire’s top business recruiter, Michael Bergeron , labeling him a “full-time thief.”

Bergeron, who was said to have removed the state seal from his car to be less conspicuous when visiting prospects, claimed to have lured dozens of firms from Mass. to the Granite State. Brazenly, he posted the Globe profile on his agency website.

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In 2010, Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell faced allegations of inciting a border war by writing to New York City-based hedge-fund managers.

“I am personally inviting you and a few of your colleagues to meet with me. We have much to discuss!” Rell added. “The meeting will be intimate, direct and private.”

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Art Imitating Life

Connecticut’s use of a tax credit to lure media-production companies was satirized, in 2011, in the I Heart Connecticut episode of the popular TV show “30 Rock.”


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