Saturday, October 29, 2016

The scale of SNAP (food stamp) spending relative to other budget priorities

Multiple social media friends recently shared a fall 2015 chart from an organization called "The Other 98%" (slogans: "kicking corporate asses for the working classes" and "we didn't start the class war, but we're going to end it").

I like the chart's implied message. In my own words: "The United States should seek to advance peace, reduce military spending, pursue economic justice, and support programs that promote food security."

But, the chart badly botches the details, showing SNAP (food stamp) spending as a minuscule portion of federal spending, "somewhere within the tiny orange sliver at the bottom," less than 1% of federal spending, and therefore less than 1/57th as large as the military budget that takes most of the pie.

In a democracy, we don't all need to be budget experts, but I highly recommend that every voter take just the 10 minutes needed to understand some basics about the federal budget. I like the clear "Federal Budget 101" provided by the National Priorities Project. Here are 4 items from that website that help in interpreting the chart above.

1. The total budget was about $3.8 trillion in 2015. Military spending was $598 billion (16% of the total). SNAP spending (part of "everything else") was $74 billion (2% of the total). Therefore, SNAP spending is 1/8th as large as military spending.

2. Federal spending can be divided into "mandatory spending" (65%, including SNAP and many other programs whose annual spending follows rules that were decided when the program was authorized) and "discretionary spending" (29%, including military spending and many other programs whose annual spending is mainly decided by appropriations each year).

3. Military spending is a large part of discretionary spending (which, in turn, is 29% of the total budget). The Other 98%'s chart shows discretionary spending -- as noted in the text underneath the Facebook post above. It agrees closely with the numbers from the National Priorities Project. However, The Other 98% is wrong to say that the small "Food and Agriculture" slice contains SNAP.

4. Social security and medical costs make up a large fraction of mandatory spending (which, in turn, is 65% of the total budget). SNAP ($74 billion) and mandatory farm subsidy programs are both included within the yellow food and agriculture slice ($122.6 billion) of this chart -- not the food and agriculture slice of the preceding discretionary chart.

To summarize, the military budget ($598 billion) is about 8 times as big as the SNAP or food stamp budget ($74 billion). For many readers, there never was any reason for the original Facebook post to indulge in misrepresentation, confusion, or error. These accurate numbers would have been sufficient to motivate the main rhetorical argument: "The United States will be better off if we pursue peace, reduce military spending, promote justice, and ensure enough food for all people in our community."

I hope this time was useful to you in a small way (to understand a quibble with the Facebook post) and a big way (to comprehend the broad outlines of how our government spends our money).


Anonymous said...

Just goes to show that you should always fact check posts on social media. It sadly does not surprise me that our government spends a mass amount of money on the military. What does surprise me however, is the little amount of money that is utilized in nutritional assistance programs like SNAP. Many Americans are suffering from food insecurity, shouldn't the government focus a little more on providing food assistance? Just to conclude, I completely agree with your statement that we would be "better off if we pursue peace, reduce military spending, promote justice, and ensure enough food for all people in our community".

Anonymous said...

De-funding the military will assure peace? Since when?