It what must be a shock to the conservative belief system that the Federal Government is incapable of helping people, a newly published report by the Department of Agriculture demonstrates that SNAP (The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka Food Stamps) significantly reduced poverty during the recession.
Our results showed that the prevalence of poverty, as measured by the headcount index, was not reduced much by SNAP. In contrast, the depth and severity of poverty, and particularly of child poverty, were significantly reduced by SNAP. The average decline from 2000 to 2009 in the child-poverty-gap index was 15.5 percent, while the average decline in the squared-poverty-gap index for children was 21.3 percent. SNAP benefits reduced both the depth and severity of poverty in both metropolitan areas and nonmetropolitan areas, with somewhat greater poverty reductions among individuals in nonmetropolitan areas.
While SNAP was unable to raise people out of poverty (that’s not really it’s purpose), it was able to provide much-needed supplemental income to families hit hard by the recession. And ironically, contrary to the pre-conceived view of most Conservatives that poverty reduction programs are targetted at the urban minority poor (think “Welfare Queen“), SNAP provides “greater poverty reductions among individuals in nonmetropolitan areas.” That means rural farming populations for the most part.
The antipoverty effect of SNAP was highest in 2009, when the ARRA increased SNAP benefits to all participants, and SNAP benefits ensured that the depth and severity of poverty increased only slightly from their 2008 levels despite worsening economic conditions. These results clearly show that an examination of only the headcount index, or prevalence of poverty, would lead to an understatement of the role of SNAP benefits in the reduction of poverty. Our analysis of the poverty-gap and squared-poverty-gap indices makes clear that SNAP plays an important role in improving the welfare of individuals in low-income households.
Federal poverty reduction programs, in place since President Johnson’s War on Poverty continue to work and continue to provide much needed support for families struggling through hard economic times. But I suspect that this argument. like so many arguments based on facts and data, will have little impact on the modern Republican Party who have abandoned compassion in favor of social Darwinism. When Paul Ryan is your hero, little can be said for your ability to empathize with your fellow citizens.