Why Are We Cutting the Nation’s Nutrition Assistance Program for the Poor and Disabled?

On November 1, tens of millions of Americans learned that the assistance they received from the federal government to purchase groceries was reduced. Maximum monthly benefits for a family of four fell from $668 to $632, and for a single person the maximum benefit fell from $200 to $189.

Who is going to be effected by these cuts?

This change is likely to affect nearly 48 million individuals, including 22 million children. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), since 2007, the number of individuals benefiting from the nation’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (which most of us know as food stamps) has grown from 26 million to 48 million people, in large part because of the significant loss of jobs and income that resulted from the Great Recession that began in 2008.

What impact will these cuts have on cities?

The impact on cities is likely to be significant. First, individuals and families will have to spend more of their limited resources to purchase food, leaving them with less money to pay for other necessities. Second, these same households will be forced to reduce their food spending, which is likely to impact their health and well-being. Third, your city or town and the various community-based organizations dedicated to assisting lower income households with food are likely to face an increased demand for basic food items like milk, bread, and cheese. And fourth, this cut is likely to have an impact on the nation’s overall economy.

If the impact is likely to be so significant, why did these cuts occur?

The $5 billion cut that took effect November 1 for fiscal year 2014 (which began October 1) will be followed by another $6 billion cut in fiscal year 2015 and yet another $6 billion cut in fiscal year 2016. This reduction in food stamp assistance occurred because Congress failed to extend a temporary increase in food stamp spending that was part of the Obama Administration’s 2009 economic stimulus bill.

Are more cuts coming?

The future does not bode well for the nation’s food assistance program, despite its benefits. If left to the Republican-controlled House, Nutrition Assistance programs would be cut by an additional $39 billion over ten years. If left to the Democratic-controlled Senate, $4 billion in additional cuts would be made over the same ten-year period.

Do these cuts make sense?

These cuts make no sense; they’re happening even though most economists agree that the more spending power low- income people have, the greater the benefit for the economy. Unlike those Americans with substantial incomes, who are more likely to save their extra income, the nation’s poorest individuals will spend their extra money to ensure that their basic needs are met, and in doing so, will return more money to the economy.

For example, the USDA estimates that for every $5 spent with food stamps, $9 in economic activity is generated, and these expenditures benefit grocers, food producers, and farmers. And the New York Times reports that JP Morgan Chase estimates that the cuts could shave 0.2 percentage points from economic growth in final three months of 2013, and 0.1 from the nation’s gross domestic product. And while “those drags may seem small . . . projections for gains in fourth-quarter gross domestic product hover around an annual rate of just 2 percent.”

Are more cuts in safety net programs coming?

Unfortunately, the answer appears to be yes. Unless Congress acts, emergency unemployment benefits will end, and millions of individuals will have their benefits cut. The end of that program is likely to cut economic growth by 0.4 percent in the first quarter alone, according to JP Morgan Chase.

Neil Bomberg

About the author: Neil Bomberg is NLC’s Program Director for Human Development. Through Federal Advocacy, he lobbies on behalf of cities around education, workforce development, health care, welfare, and pensions. Follow Neil on Twitter at @neilbomberg.

Supporting Food Systems, Supporting Communities

“The best way to preserve farmland is to make farmers successful on that land.”

This call to action from participants attending the Supporting Local Food Systems Roundtable at NLC’s Congress of Cities (CoC), speaks to just one of the many factors driving the National League of Cities’ (NLC) commitment to addressing sustainable food issues in America’s cities and towns by providing local government leaders with effective tools and resources.

This past Congress of Cities in Boston was my first, and potentially my only, as NLC staff. I am a National Urban Fellow, Class of 2013, who was chosen to spend my nine-month fellowship working with all three centers of NLC: Federal Relations, Research & Innovation and the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. I come with past experience in endowment consulting and food system work, and hoped that my fellowship experience would allow me time to understand the intersection of food and policy in communities.

I am thankful to be working on the development of a comprehensive suite of resources to assist local activities and decision-making within the area of local foods. The resulting content will be used to build a brand new section of NLC’s Sustainable Cities Institute (SCI) on Sustainable Food Systems. As the centerpiece of NLC’s sustainability efforts, SCI provides a dynamic online platform of resources and peer‐networking opportunities to assist cities in identifying, planning for and implementing holistic, long‐term approaches to community‐wide sustainability. The Sustainable Food System section will be the latest addition to SCI and is scheduled to launch in early 2013.

My hope was to see the intersection of my interests as a fellow and the goals of SCI, come together to answer questions like: What issues are on concerned citizens minds about food that connect with local, state and federal policies? And how can local government play a role to help incentivize, finance and provide partnerships towards sustainable food systems? I started to answer portions of these questions while at CoC 2012.

The call to action that started this piece, made during our Supporting Local Food Systems Roundtable discussion, speaks to how I hope we as staff and the elected officials we serve see our respective constituents. Potentially, that the best way for a local elected official to preserve their cities and towns is to make sure their constituents are successful at home, at work, and in their neighborhoods. Potentially, that the best way for NLC to preserve its local elected official membership, is to equip that membership so that it is successful in its communities. This call to action recognizes that supporting worthwhile efforts, through preservation and maximization of resources can make successful communities.

During the roundtable discussion, I was reminded that food is critical to cities and towns because it connects so many different issues: poverty, economic development, public health, etc. I have found that the more I learn about food, the more it becomes an issue that unearths other issues; that a reality like food insecurity, is a symptom of something larger that city leaders strive to address.  I believe that NLC will make these connections from food to areas like economic development and infrastructure.

City leaders continued to make these connections at the conference during a World Cafe table on financing healthy foods, and a workshop titled “Growing Your Local Food Economy.”  Ideas were shared and roadmaps were offered around the issues of healthy food access, urban agriculture and the difficulty of luring large grocery stores to underserved communities. Also discussed were potential avenues of state funding, novel examples of partnerships and passing of ordinances to support, preserve and maximize efforts.

Every elected official who spoke up in these sessions had something to offer and was looking for something new for their communities. It reassured me that those who are thinking about food issues in their municipalities are striving to understand what other communities have done to help alleviate a difficult situation and how a solution goes beyond food to mean community benefit.

We in the Sustainability program at NLC need these stories!

A Sustainable Food Systems section is scheduled to launch in early 2013 on the SCI website, including tools such as classroom content, case studies, reports and guides, model policies and more. As we continue to develop these resources, we want to hear from you: what resources, tools or topics would be most helpful to assist your efforts in developing a strong, sustainable and healthy food system in your community?

Send feedback, ideas, successful practices or questions to David DeVaughn, NLC National Urban Fellow, at devaughn@nlc.org.

For more information on the Sustainable Cities Institute visit http://www.SustainableCitiesInstitute.org and follow us on twitter @SustCitiesInst