Vulnerable Wisconsin Families to Receive Less Food Assistance
Cuts will Hit Families with Children, Northern Wisconsin the Hardest
Nearly 900,000 people in Wisconsin will have a harder time putting food on the table starting in November, when a temporary boost to FoodShare, Wisconsin’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), ends. Notwithstanding the looming reductions, the House of Representatives has proposed another substantial cut as part of the Farm Bill. The across-the-board cuts in November will reduce the food assistance by $89 million for struggling Wisconsin families in fiscal year 2014 alone. Cuts of that magnitude will cause significant pain for low-income families and hurt Wisconsin’s economy.
All Beneficiaries to Experience SNAP Cuts
A modest boost in SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to strengthen the economy and ease hardship expires at the end of October.
SNAP has never experienced a reduction in benefits that impact all participants. Nationwide, 47 million struggling people rely on SNAP benefits to help meet their nutritional needs, including 22 million children. Given the fact that benefits already don’t cover all food costs for many families, these cuts will be particularly painful.
SNAP Helps Wisconsin Families Make Ends Meet
SNAP provides a modest but important boost to many Wisconsin families. In July 2013, 860,000 people in Wisconsin received help from SNAP — about 1 out of every 7 Wisconsinites.
The average monthly SNAP benefit is relatively low, but it can make a big difference in helping to put food on the table. In Wisconsin, SNAP benefits average about $115 per person, or roughly $1.30 per meal. The cuts to SNAP mean that starting in November, a family of three will have its benefit cut by $29 a month.
Children make up a large share of those who get help from SNAP in Wisconsin. Statewide, 452,000 children, or one out of three Wisconsin children, were enrolled in or participated in SNAP in 2012. All these children will be hurt by this cut.
In some areas of the state, more than half of the children receive assistance over the course of a year. In six Wisconsin counties — Menominee, Milwaukee, Adams, Sawyer, Burnett, and Washburn — a majority of children received assistance at some point in 2012, as shown in the chart below. In Milwaukee County alone, 146,000 children, or three out of five children living in the county, received SNAP benefits in 2012.
SNAP Cuts to Hinder Local Economies
In addition to helping feed hungry families, SNAP is one of the fastest, most effective ways to stimulate a struggling economy, because benefits are immediately spent on food at local grocery stores. Every $1 increase in SNAP benefits generates about $1.70 in economic activity, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The coming reduction in SNAP means that families will spend less in their community, with the loss being felt by local businesses. The table below shows how the cut to SNAP will hurt counties across Wisconsin in the next year.
Families in Milwaukee County will lose the most in purchasing power over that period— $32.9 million — but families in other counties will experience significant losses as well, particularly in the rural northern part of the state, where a large number of families rely on SNAP. For example, in Washburn County, where more than a quarter of residents received SNAP benefits in 2012, families will lose $265,000 due to the reduction in benefits.
Further SNAP Reductions Likely to be Attempted
Policymakers at the state and national levels have said they want to cut the program even more.
At the state level, legislators imposed new work rules that will reduce the number of people receiving benefits by an estimated 31,000, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. Governor Walker has advocated for asset limits for people receiving SNAP benefits, which would further limit eligibility. At the national level, House Republicans have passed a bill that would slash billions of dollars from the SNAP program.
Efforts to reduce SNAP benefits are shortsighted given the slow economy and lackluster job growth, particularly in Wisconsin. Poverty and joblessness often mean families can’t put food on the table, and one in nine Wisconsin households is affected by food insecurity, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
SNAP is a powerful tool that helps keep Wisconsin families out of poverty. Reducing benefit levels or restricting eligibility during slow economic times will make it harder for Wisconsin residents to make ends meet, and will hit families with children and northern counties the hardest.