Monday, August 29, 2005

Congressional action to cut social programs

When Congress returns from break, lawmakers will turn their attention to passing the laws that implement broad program cuts -- including cuts to social programs -- stipulated in the budget resolution this Spring. Medicaid may lose billions (relative to its baseline projected growth due to caseload and medical costs). Food stamps are threatened to a somewhat smaller degree: $3 billion over five years are to be cut from the budget area that includes both food stamps and farm programs. Perhaps $2.4 billion will be cut from farm programs and $600,000 from food stamps (see Jonathan Weisman in the Washington Post yesterday).

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has good background reporting making the case that food assistance programs reduce hunger and bolster nutrition. In other recently updated reports, the Center on Budget warns about specific proposals on the table, including one for a five-state block grant, and another that would permit more flexible waivers (administrative decisions that grant states authority to experiment with program rules and design). The authors of the latter report argue that new "superwaivers" are dangerous, because USDA's Food and Nutrition Service already has sufficient authority to permit state waivers for some kinds of policy initiatives, which allow innovations without threatening the welfare of program participants. The Center's strength is explaining arcane policy debates like these, the better to protect low-income Americans from dangerous daggers buried in thickets of legislation. Still, whether with "superwaivers" or without, I would like to see more ambitious food stamp policy innovations that seek to improve the program's nutritional effectiveness, make clearer that the program does not provide an incentive for overconsumption of food for particular subpopulations, and improve the program's flexibility for participants.

If you would like to contact your legislator to express a view about food stamp cuts, see the food stamp action pages on the websites of the Coalition on Human Needs and the Food Research and Action Center.

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