Seth Wenig / AP

Republicans float changes to food stamp funding

Proposed budget will likely include fixed funding for SNAP, allowing more state flexibility but limiting resources

Senate Republicans will put forward a budget proposal next week that will include major revisions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps, according to Republican lawmakers. In an article published Thursday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told the Wall Street Journal that the proposed budget would change SNAP funding to more closely resemble a block grant model.

Currently, federal SNAP funding is designed to automatically increase or decrease based on the number of people enrolled in the program. For benefit programs that receive their funding through block grants, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the federal government provides each state with a lump sum and lets state governments decide how to allocate the money. These lump sums are a fixed amount and don’t change based on the number of beneficiaries.

In other words, if lawmakers alter SNAP so that it becomes funded through block grants, then states will have more flexibility to allocate benefits as they see fit. However, if a state experiences a sharp increase in applicants to the program, it will not receive an increase in funding to meet those needs.

“It’s just a better way to give flexibility on the ground, where people are at,” Graham told the Wall Street Journal. “The more you manage something far away, the more costly and less efficient it becomes.”

Republicans will also reportedly propose similar reforms to Medicaid. A spokesperson for the Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee declined to comment on the budget before it is released.

The GOP has perennially advocated funding SNAP through block grants since at least the Reagan administration. In fact, the Republican-controlled House Budget Committee made the recommendation in its own budget proposal as recently as April. At the time, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington think tank, projected that the proposal would reduce SNAP funding by somewhere between $135 billion and $150 billion over the next decade.

Margarette Purvis, president of Food Bank For New York City, the country’s largest food bank, said that funding SNAP through block grants to the states would result in "giving them less resources, which you know will not cover the need."

SNAP has already experienced several billion dollars in cuts over the past two years as a result of the automatic expiration of emergency funds and changes to how SNAP benefits are calculated.

“It is an efficient program, and it’s just unfortunate that once again, after those horrible cuts that we already suffered 17 months ago, this kind of thinking would still be in play,” said Purvis.

The House Committee on Agriculture, which is also controlled by the Republican majority, is currently conducting a full review of the SNAP program. That review, begun in late February, is still in the very early stages; committee members have yet to issue any firm conclusions or policy recommendations.

In opening remarks delivered at a committee hearing on SNAP, agriculture committee chairman Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said the review would be conducted “without preconceived notions and with a commitment to strengthening the program so it can serve as a tool to help individuals move up the economic ladder."

“For many [SNAP] is a vital lifeline to keep food on the table. What we don’t want is for this program to hold people back from achieving their potential,” said Conaway. "I believe there is a role for SNAP, but we need to have a complete and clear understanding of its mission and purpose."

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