The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which turns 40 years old this week, is America’s largest and most comprehensive nutrition program. Although it’s threatened by budget cuts, the program continues to help Louisiana families make ends meet and put food on the table.

Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP helps nearly 1 in 4 Louisiana households (24 percent) afford a consistent and balanced diet. More than just a feeding program, SNAP ensures that Louisiana workers are healthy and strong, our children are ready to learn, and elderly residents get the nutrients they need to live long. The program also provides a substantial economic boost to Louisiana’s food retailers and local economies. Unfortunately, in recent months, SNAP has come under attack in both President Trump’s proposed budget and the House budget resolution.  

That is unfortunate, as SNAP has enjoyed longstanding bipartisan support and Congress has incrementally strengthened the program in the four decades since it was established. President Lyndon B. Johnson championed the food stamp program, first as a pilot, as a way of addressing hunger in both urban and rural communities. It was President Jimmy Carter, though, who signed The Food Stamp Act of 1977, which created the framework for the modern food stamp program we have today.

How does SNAP work?

SNAP benefits are paid for entirely by the federal government, while the costs of administering the program are split equally between the federal government and the state.  State administrative duties include verifying eligibility and paying benefits to families. In August, $113 million in SNAP benefits were distributed to 410,000 Louisiana households, an average of $276 per household. The state loads the benefits directly onto Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards and recipients spend them on groceries at the 4,876 licensed retailers across the state. The majority of benefits are spent at large supermarkets, but retailers of all sizes participate in the program, including 26 farmers markets across the state.

Impacts of SNAP

SNAP is especially important for low-wage workers and their families. In Louisiana, 1 in 8 workers and more than 1 in 3 children (37 percent) rely on food assistance. Service industry workers, salespersons, and office support staff in the state are particularly likely to rely on SNAP to make ends meet. Not only does the program supplements low wages, it also smooths out income volatility due to changing work hours and supports workers when they’re between jobs. The average length of time a Louisiana family spends on SNAP is 16 months.

A study by Moody’s Analytics found that every dollar in SNAP benefits generates $1.70 in economic activity. Using this economic multiplier, SNAP generates more than $192 million in economic activity in our state each month – money that supports jobs, keeps small businesses afloat and helps local farmers.  

The program is also a lifeline that helps ensure families in the richest country on earth do not experience severe hunger and starvation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that Louisiana has the 2nd highest rate of food insecurity in the country. Almost 1 in 5 Louisiana resident (18.3 percent) reported experiencing low food security in 2016, meaning they did not have consistent access to an adequate diet throughout the year. Nearly 8 percent of Louisianans reported experiencing “very low” food security, meaning they were forced to skip meals or reduce intake due to a lack of resources. Without SNAP and other important safety net programs, the share of Louisianans experiencing food insecurity would be considerably higher.

Threats to SNAP

President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal recommends cutting federal funding for SNAP by $193 billion, a reduction of more than 25 percent, over the next decade. The cuts would be achieved by shifting costs to the states, tightening eligibility standards, and allowing states to reduce the amount of SNAP benefits a household receives each month. The House budget resolution, which was approved by the House Budget Committee along partisan lines, requires enacting a cut to agriculture programs this year that would reduce spending by $10 billion over the next decade, most of which would come from SNAP.  The House’s budget blueprint also includes a broader vision, one that includes deeper cuts in the latter part of the decade that would result in a $150 billion cut in SNAP funding.

The program’s critics fail to acknowledge that SNAP has grown to be one of the strongest and most efficient assistance programs available to struggling Americans. Administrative costs are relatively minimal given the scope of the program, fraud is rare, and families know they can rely on the program in a time of unexpected need, such as recessions and natural disasters. Instead of cutting the program or overhauling its structure, Congress should provide adequate funding to make sure it can sustain needy American families for another 40 years.