After probing a little more deeply into the reported cuts in the food stamp (SNAP) program, I think there’s a bit of confusion, possibly willful. Here’s the Huffington Post’s commentary:
This week House Republicans voted again to take food from the mouths of our most vulnerable citizens. After failing to get support for a $20 billion cut in food stamps during farm bill negotiations earlier this year, on Thursday Republicans passed an even larger reduction of $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
These cuts show Republicans fundamentally misunderstand what poverty looks like in America. They aren’t even aware of the living conditions for their own constituents, where reports show Republican Congressional Districts saw bigger increases in suburban poverty in recent years. They don’t see that for some our economy has rebounded but for far too many the struggle to put food on the table continues.
and here’s Agri-Pulse’s reporting:
WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 2013 – The House approved Thursday a three-year nutrition bill (H.R. 3102), with a partisan 217-210 vote, that aims to cut about $40 billion over 10 years for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and provide various reforms to the program.
All 217 votes in support of the bill were cast by Republican lawmakers. Fifteen Republicans joined 195 Democrats in opposing the bill. Five Democrats and one Republican did not vote.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and other Republican lawmakers said the bill would make “common-sense” reforms to the SNAP program largely by encouraging work and ferreting out fraud and abuse.
Agri-Pulse is a news resource specializing in farming and rural policy coverage. The SNAP program is administered by the Department of Agriculture.
Here, on the other hand, is an editorial from the New Hampshire Union Leader:
The New York Times “reported” on Friday: “House Republicans Pass Deep Cuts in Food Stamps.” The bill “slashes billions of dollars from the food stamp program,” intoned Times writer Ron Nixon. Narrative established: Republicans heartlessly devastate a program that feeds the poor.
One had to read to the sixth paragraph to find this sentence: “But even with the cuts, the food stamp program would cost more than $700 billion over the next 10 years.”
The Republican bill would cut $40 billion over a decade from a program that will still spend $700 billion over that period. It is a scratch, not a deep cut. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Republicans would “take food out of the mouths of millions of American children…” About those millions…
It used to be that food stamp recipients had to meet tight income and work requirements to qualify. Now more than two-thirds of recipients get on the program simply by qualifying for other federal assistance. And the work requirements have been relaxed.
Do you see the differences among them? The HP coverage is highly agonistic and emphasizes the plight of the poor recipients, victims of the awful, heartless Republicans. It fails to mention the actual scope of the cuts—$4 billion per year or making qualification for the plan more rigorous. The Union-Leader emphasizes the growth in the plan over the years without mentioning the growth in the need for the plan over the years. At least Agri-Pulse’s coverage is factual rather than being an obvious advocacy piece. None of them specifies the nature of the changes in qualifications for the plan. For that I’d need to go to the primary source material.
Isn’t that what journalism is supposed to be about? Fair and complete coverage of the sources? I shouldn’t need to re-report the story.
Based on the news coverage I can’t determine whether the cuts are warranted or not. I continue to think that the Republicans have erred in going after SNAP. The case for waste, fraud, or abuse just isn’t particularly strong and they’ve probably lost more by their framing of the cuts than they gain by the cuts themselves.
A fundamental principle of optimization theory is optimize where there’s something to optimize. So much of the federal budget is devoted to defense spending, Social Security, and Medicare that it’s hard to justify paying attention to anything else other than for strategic reasons, something absent in the case of SNAP. A principle in negotiation is don’t foreclose options—prepare for future negotiations. Cutting SNAP violates that, too.