Earlier in January, the Chicago Tribune ran an article about big potential changes coming to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and how they could drastically change the face of food access in Illinois.
While nothing has been confirmed, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, has proposed the possibility of block-granting SNAP, which would mean sending fixed sums to each state annually. Block-granting would fundamentally alter the structure of the SNAP program, and render ineffective one of the USA’s most robust anti-poverty programs. Currently, SNAP funding is flexible and responds to demand. It comes from the federal government, which can rely on deficit spending to cover the increased costs of more nutrition assistance in an economic downturn. States cannot spend this way because they must balance their budgets. In other words, when the money runs out in a block-granted SNAP program, people lose access to benefits.
In addition, block-granting SNAP would set up the program to diminish in scope. Even if Congress does not make any cuts outright, the grants will decrease in value over time with inflation. To maintain their value, Congress would have to either tie the amount of the grants to inflation or raise the sums on a regular basis—neither of which are likely to happen, given Congress’ recent track record of limiting federal spending.
Ultimately, any losses to SNAP funding would adversely affect millions of people in the United States. In Illinois alone, nearly two million people rely on this program for basic nutritional assistance. To block-grant SNAP would be to deny these people reliable access to nutritious food.
Interested in learning more?
Check out our latest episode of “Getting to Work,” CJC’s podcast. The podcast demystifies some of the policy jargon surrounding SNAP and analyzes the potential policy changes from a workforce development perspective.
For a more detailed overview of the SNAP program, check out this article from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).