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.)
And what’s the rationale for this cut? Republicans and their supporters say the program’s spending has gotten “out of control” and warn that it’s fostering a culture of dependency, just like the old welfare system did. But the evidence for this is pretty thin. SNAP expenditures have unquestionably grown in recent years, but there are good reasons for that, starting with the fact that the economy is lousy. (Jason DeParle and Robert M. Gebeloff of the New York Times had an extensive look at this about a year ago.) As the Center on Budget notes, current projections suggest the program will return to pre-recession levels and grow no faster than the economy as a whole, which means it’s not really a net contributor to the deficits.
Fraud and waste aren’t issues, either. Last year the General Accounting Office found that program errors, which include underpayment of benefits as well as overpayments, were less than 4 percent. And “trafficking”–that is, the illegal trade of food stamps for other goods or money–had fallen to less than one cent on the dollar. Both were record lows. The GAO report suggested there was still room for improvement and, certainly, there is. But even if the government figured out a way to wipe out all of the errors and fraud, it’d be a fraction of the cut Republicans are contemplating.