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Nan Madden: Snap decisions often result in bad consequences

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Nearly six years ago, America suffered a historic financial crisis that led to the most serious economic downturn since the Great Depression.

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Millions of Americans — including thousands of Minnesotans — lost their jobs and incomes, their homes and savings, and their dreams. People who had considered themselves middle class or working class were suddenly struggling just to put food on the table.

Compounding this damage, America has been excruciatingly slow to recover from the Great Recession. The economy is still not creating enough jobs, leaving many people without work or with jobs that don’t pay enough to feed their families.

Instead of taking steps to strengthen the economy and get people back to work, the U.S. Congress is considering a proposal to make the crisis worse for millions of Americans.

A plan that passed the U.S. House in September would cut nearly $40 billion over 10 years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides basic food assistance for one out of 10 Minnesotans. The cuts would eliminate SNAP (formerly called food stamps) for nearly 4 million Americans, including at least 41,000 Minnesotans.

That’s in addition to a $5 billion cut to SNAP on Nov. 1 that will reduce benefits for all SNAP households including children, seniors and even veterans. For a family of three, the cut is $29 a month — a total of $319 for November 2013 through September 2014. That’s a serious loss: basic SNAP benefits will average less than $1.40 per person per meal in 2014.

The stunningly harsh House bill would make matters even worse. It would end basic food assistance for many, including people who cannot find jobs in a difficult economy no matter how hard they try.

People use SNAP because they have no choice. The majority of SNAP participants who are able to work do have jobs. But those jobs may not pay enough to feed a family. SNAP empowers people to look for jobs and not worry about whether there’s food in the refrigerator.

SNAP is a wise investment for taxpayers. It is doing exactly what it was designed to do: get people back on their feet during hard economic times. It grows when the economy is bad and more Americans are struggling; when the economy improves, its cost and caseloads shrink.

SNAP also has a big economic impact, as people use SNAP at their local grocery stores. In fiscal year 2012, $750 million in SNAP funds went to Minnesota, benefiting families, local farmers and grocers. And in a weak economy, every dollar increase in SNAP generates about $1.70 in economic activity, according to Moody’s Analytics.

We all know that snap decisions often result in bad consequences. The right ‘SNAP’ decision for Congress is to reject cuts and instead get the economy going and more people into good jobs.

Nan Madden is director of the Minnesota Budget Project, which provides independent research, analysis and advocacy on budget and tax issues, emphasizing their impact on low- and moderate-income Minnesotans and the organizations that serve them.

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