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The [Thursday] Papers

"For all the hullabaloo surrounding food stamps, one might think they're a worthwhile investment," Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute writes in an Op-Ed for Crain's.

"Unfortunately, no one is really sure about that. In fact, the Government Accountability Office found that 'the literature is inconclusive regarding whether SNAP alleviates hunger and malnutrition for low-income households.'"

Really? How could this be? I found this claim quite stunning. How could food stamps not alleviate hunger? Given that the GAO is a pretty credible source, I decided to follow up.

Guess what? It's not true.

Here's what the GAO really had to say:

"Literature also suggests that participation in SNAP, the largest of the federal food and nutrition programs, is associated with positive effects on outcomes related to many of its goals."

I suspect alleviating hunger would be chief among those goals, but let's go on:

"According to the research, participation in SNAP has several positive outcomes related to the program's goals of raising the level of nutrition and increasing the food purchasing power of low-income households.

"For example, participation in SNAP has been found to increase household food expenditures, increase the availability of nutrients to the household, and, as some research has found, reduce anemia and other nutritional deficiencies.

"In addition, increasing household food expenditures is also related to SNAP's goal of strengthening the U.S. agricultural economy.

"However, the literature is inconclusive regarding whether SNAP alleviates hunger and malnutrition in low-income households, another program goal."

How could a program that "rais[es] the level of nutrition and increas[es] the food purchasing power of low-income households" not alleviate hunger?

My first thought was that the program may to a small degree alleviate hunger in individuals, but not enough to significantly alleviate hunger in the aggregate, as a national issue. And that may be what the GAO is getting at. But there's more.

"While studies show the program increases household food expenditures and the nutrients available to the household, research finds little or no effect on the dietary or nutrient intake of individuals.

"The Economic Research Service cites several reasons why, despite increasing household nutrient availability, SNAP may not affect individual dietary and nutrient intakes."

By the way, "may" and "inconclusive" doesn't mean it doesn't; whatever studies have been done haven't found the program failing at these goals either. But let's proceed.

"For example, all household members might not share equally in the consumption of additional nutrients made available by SNAP benefits . . . "

So someone in the family is benefiting, but not necessarily everyone in the family.

" . . . some food may be wasted or consumed by guests . . . "

The studies only measure the official recipient of food stamps, not friends or other non-family members who may share in the food SNAP provides. (Perhaps a mother on SNAP purchases food that she gives to children and/or other relatives not living in her home, a circumstance someone from the CATO Institute may not have the street smarts to consider. Has the program alleviated hunger? Yes. In the SNAP household? No.)

" . . . and some household members might consume food from other 'nonhome' sources."

I assume this applies to the nutritional value part of the research; and indeed, if you live in a food desert your choices for your SNAP dollar are generally limited to unhealthy and processed poison. Just receiving food stamps doesn't in any way suddenly provide healthier choices than not having food stamps; in fact, not having food stamps generally means you can afford to live near and/or buy healthier food. SNAP doesn't magically reverse that circumstance.

"In addition, the availability of more food in the house does not guarantee individuals eat a healthier diet."

What I just said.

Finally, another reason why SNAP may not alleviate hunger as defined by researchers: The benefits are tiny.

"This month, SNAP benefits were reduced to an average of just $1.40 per person, per meal," Diane Doherty of the Illinois Hunger Coalition noted in her own Crain's Op-Ed.

"Congress allowed to expire a provision that provided a small increase in benefits to help boost the economy and ease hardship. That means a family of three lost $29 a month to put food on the table. That is equivalent to 16 meals a month."

I know that when a lot of people see a figure like $29 a month they think it's not a big deal. As someone with less than a hundred dollars in his bank account and a load of unpaid bills and credit card debt, I can tell you that $29 a month can be the difference between eating one day or not; keeping the lights on or not; renewing a badly need medical prescription or not.

It's the same thing when people - like our mayor - pooh-pooh increases in CTA fares, water bills and parking tickets.

Instead of raising taxes on the wealthy, Rahm raises fees on the poor.

"Look at any area of the city's 2012 budget, as proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and you won't see any bite larger than from the area labeled 'community services,'" Megan Cottrell reported about the mayor's first budget.

"Most sections of the budget are getting cut. Finance and administration down by 3.1 percent. Legislative and elections down 9.5 percent. Infrastructure down 1 percent. City development, public safety and regulatory? Reduced 2.9, 1.4 and 10.7, respectively.

"Community services? Their budget has been reduced by nearly a fifth, down 17.7 percent.

"For poor residents in Chicago, it means they'll have even less help than before. While corporations get a cut in their head tax, poor Chicagoans will see the city services they rely on - health centers, child care, workforce development, mental health treatment, library services and the like - get smaller and, in some cases, disappear."

That was a budget whose passage the media declared a "win" for the mayor, while ignoring the loss that it was for all but our richest residents.

So while losing $29 a month for a family of three is hard enough, it's even harder when that same family is adding a multiple of $29 a month in expenses from every source Rahm can think of.

And then there's the sequester, which the media forgot about once the political drama of avoiding it was over. The real cuts, though, have kicked in and they are painful.

But by all means, let's cut food stamps.

In fact, the Government Accountability Office found that 'the literature is inconclusive regarding whether SNAP alleviates hunger and malnutrition for low-income households.'

In fact, that's simply not true as presented by Tanner.

*

Finally, I invite Tanner to ask 100 people receiving SNAP benefits if the program has in any way alleviated their hunger. I will eat a LINK card if he finds that it has not.

*

"Similarly," Tanner writes, "a study for the U.S. Department of Agriculture found for nearly all vitamins, minerals and macronutrients assessed, the dietary intake among SNAP participants was comparable to that of nonparticipants."

Yes. Those on SNAP tend to eat the same kind of food that those not on SNAP eat. You know why? They're not aliens. SNAP isn't supposed to make you healthier, even if the government claims that as a goal. It's just supposed to fill your belly.

But you know what would make SNAP recipients - and all of us - healthier? A better regulated food system, which I'm sure that Tanner would oppose with every processed fiber of his body.

*

Also, note that Tanner turns to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study - no doubt also cherry-picked - to make his case about the nutritional value of SNAP while ignoring the study he used to make his original claim. The study he started with found that:

According to the research, participation in SNAP has several positive outcomes related to the program's goals of raising the level of nutrition and increasing the food purchasing power of low-income households.

For example, participation in SNAP has been found to increase household food expenditures, increase the availability of nutrients to the household, and, as some research has found, reduce anemia and other nutritional deficiencies.

Apparently that first study is only valid to Tanner when he can slice something out of it to disingenuously bolster his predetermined argument and otherwise not worth citing.

-

Comment:

Maybe everyone on SNAP is also on a diet.

- Tim Willette

*

Comment:

It's an even ballsier version of the "throwing money at the problem won't fix [education, etc.]" - throwing food at the problem won't solve hunger!

- Tim Willette

*

Reply:

Throwing food at the problem won't solve hunger! That's like throwing jobs at unemployment!

The next time one of my credit card companies calls, I'm going to say, "Look, throwing money at this debt won't solve the problem."

- Steve Rhodes

*

Comment:

"It's like throwing housing at the homeless!"

- Tim Willette

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The Beachwood Tip Line: Snapping, crackling and popping.



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Posted on November 21, 2013


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