Robbing Peter to pay Paul
I’ve spent much of this week at work banging my head against the wall that of all the offsets Congress could have found to use to pay for state fiscal relief (FMAP) and education jobs, the one they chose to use was a cut in Food Stamps (SNAP). And then the Senate decided to cut Food Stamps some more to pay for child nutrition programs.
I get that inflation has been lower than predicted, and so the Food Stamp increase in the recovery act is lasting longer than expected. But, as Dave Obey said, that would have just meant that “some poor bastard is going to get a break for a change.” (And kudos to @AnnieLowrey for following the story from the start.)
At least with the FMAP/EduJobs bill, I can make the macroeconomic argument that it makes sense to spend more money today, prevent huge layoffs in the states and local governments, and cut spending in 2014. (If the economy is this bad still 4 years from now, we’re going to have much bigger problems.) But in the child nutrition bill, the increases would actually come AFTER the cuts.
Matthew Yglesias wrote about the child nutrition bill s today and noted that it really is robbing Peter to pay Paul — taking from dinners to pay for lunches, and from the summer to pay for the school year. I wanted to highlight one of his commenter’s responses, since it’s rare to hear from people who are directly affected. JRoth wrote:
I’ve been on SNAP benefits for over a year (family of 4, household income in ‘08 and ‘09 around $20k), and I can tell you that the margin between the old benefits ceiling (somewhere around $500) and the new (well over $600) makes a huge difference in my family’s grocery budget. With the former, I can just about squeeze the entire month’s food into the SNAP budget – a couple months we had to go the last 2-3 days on leftovers and cobbling together whatever was in the freezer. Under the new benefits, I can buy my kids fresh fruit without stressing over the difference between a $2 pint of blueberries and a $2.50 pint.
Point being, insofar as the public health goal of SNAP is enabling more healthful family eating, an extra $25/person/month goes a long way in obviating the (perceived) need to buy the high calorie/low nutrition food products that are implicated in low income obesity.
As for school lunches, the current budget is laughably small (under $2/child/lunch, iirc), and so any improvement in that number will represent an improvement. But school lunches remain a nutritional wasteland, even in places where there’s an awareness (my kid’s school offers whole grain in most meals and healthful-seeming dishes, but the reality is A. they still taste gross and B. the backup options are unconscionable things like Uncrustables.
That sounds right to me. I was shocked and slightly horrified to read last month that Fairfax schools were selected best in the country for nutritious school lunches. My kids eat the school lunch about once a week (N thinks it’s a huge treat, and would have it every day if we let him; D only wants to do it on the days that they have grilled cheese or breakfast for lunch.) If that’s the best, I can’t begin to imagine what the worst looks like.