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Editorials

September 30, 2013

Food stamp vote does little for taxpayers

It should come as no surprise that when lawmakers last week were looking to wring savings from the federal budget, food stamps ended up on the chopping block. But the Republican House vote to cut $39 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — what used to be called food stamps — is an example of misguided legislators being penny-wise and pound foolish.

The most obvious reason why the move was a waste of time is its likelihood of being signed into law; the Democrat-controlled Senate doesn’t appear likely to strip food stamps from their usual place in the farm bill, and President Barack Obama issued a veto threat before the House vote. But the House’s insistence on passing symbolic gestures means it didn’t have time to reconcile its bill with that of the Senate by today, the day the current farm bill is set to expire.

There’s also the question of whether it’s moral to take food benefits away from needy Americans at a time when the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high at 7.6 percent — and when Congress has done little in recent memory to stimulate demand or reduce unemployment.

But aside from the question of morality, cutting food stamps at a time when consumer spending is sputtering is just bad economics. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 97 percent of food stamps are spent within 30 days, which makes them one of the quickest ways the federal government can stimulate demand.

That, of course, isn’t the purpose of food stamps, which are intended primarily to alleviate the worst effects of poverty and underemployment. But perhaps it’s a misunderstanding about the point of food stamps that’s behind the House GOP’s efforts to gut the program.

“In the real world, we measure success by results,” said Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., in voting for the cuts last week. “It’s time for Washington to measure success by how many families are lifted out of poverty and helped back on their feet, not by how much Washington bureaucrats spend year after year.”

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