Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Tuesday March 19th, 2013, 12:57pm

How The Ryan Budget Would Impact Food Assistance For The Needy

More than 2 million low-income individuals in Illinois rely on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for food aid, but the program could face a big setback under U.S. House Budget Committee Chairman U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R, WI-1) proposed budget released last week.

Ryan’s plan aims to block grant the flexible SNAP program, which has about 47 million participants.

Under the plan, the federal government would give pots of cash to states to run the program, leaving them to customize it to their recipients’ needs and determine eligibility requirements.  

“Like Medicaid, SNAP suffers from a flawed structure,” the budget plan says. “States receive more money if they enroll more people in the program — so their incentive is to get people onto the rolls. They have little incentive to help people get off the rolls and find work. In fact, these programs make it harder to become independent.”

That’s not the right approach, said Beverly Henry, associate professor of nutrition and dietetics at Northern Illinois University’s College of Health and Human Sciences.

“With the budget plan to say, ‘Here is how to cut it. Shake the people off of it that don’t need it anyway’ is unrealistic,” she said.

It’s not an entitlement program, Henry added.

“To be talking as if people stay on it, that it’s due to them, I don’t think is a good way to portray it,” she said.

The SNAP program is facing a budget crunch, according to Ryan's plan, “The Path the Prosperity.”

In 2003, the program cost $25 billion, the budget reads, but today, it costs more than $80 billion.

But Henry said the logic in the budget proposal makes it seems as if the issue of being food insecure is not a big problem.

“It’s not as if it’s a luxurious budget,” she said, adding that SNAP benefits break down to be only a few dollars per meal, and there’s talk of slashing it even more.

The associated costs of food insecurity include hindering children’s growth, development, productivity and an increase in absenteeism and tardiness for students, she said. 

“These things go up when you don’t have that social system in place,” Henry said. “Cut SNAP benefits today, it’s going to end up costing you money tomorrow.”

And food insecurity in Illinois is on the rise, she said, adding that its happening "in some pockets more than others."

In Cook County, for example, about 1 in 6 individuals are food insecure, according to 2012 data from the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

With the sluggish economy, some people, who may have never thought they’d be enrolled in the program, have taken SNAP benefits for survival, Henry said.

Those people are “certainly not a population that you would want to cut your support for. They have potential,” Henry said.

The budget also calls for SNAP program time limits and work requirements, but it suggests the federal government implement those reforms gradually to give states and recipients time to adjust.

Ryan’s complete proposal seeks to reduce the federal budget by $4.6 trillion within 10 years by cutting services including Medicaid, keeping the sequester cuts in place, and repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Read Progress Illinois’ report on how the proposal will impact minority communities here.

Various anti-hunger organizations oppose any cuts or funding modifications to SNAP, including the Washington, D.C.-based Food Research and Action Center.

Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, said in a statement that the Ryan proposal would weaken SNAP’s effects of reducing poverty rates and hunger and improving child health and school readiness.

“After several years of bipartisan budget proposals (e.g., Simpson-Bowles, Gang of Six, Domenici-Rivlin) that didn’t cut SNAP, and $7 million of Romney-Ryan campaigns ads about ‘getting people off of food stamps not by cutting the program but by getting them good jobs,’ Rep. Ryan has reverted to simply taking a hatchet to the program,” Weill said.

The center is pressing members of the U.S. House to co-sponsor H. Res. 90, a resolution opposing SNAP cuts.

Check in with Progress Illinois later this week for a closer look at the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

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