The problem isn’t just with the Obama administration, either. As this Fox News report shows, food stamp programs have expanded significantly in size even when unemployment has been near historic lows. These days, though, the growth seems nearly steroid-enhanced. New Congressional projections of the agriculture bill shows that average annual spending on food assistance programs for the next decade will average almost triple the annual costs from the previous decade, with or without a real economic recovery. Jeff Sessions wants to pull back on the throttle:
Republican Senate Budget Committee staff released a bullet-point list of data from the historical trajectory of federal food-assistance programs, but the most worrisome is the first:
- When food stamps were first expanded nationally in the 1970s, just 1 in 50 Americans participated; today the figure is almost 1 in 7. The program has doubled in size since 2008 and quadrupled since 2001.
- Food stamps are one of nearly 80 means-tested federal welfare programs, including 17 for nutritional support. Collectively, these programs cost $700 billion annually, plus $200 billion in state contributions.
- From 2001 to 2006 the food stamp budget doubled, even as unemployment remained around five percent.
- Food stamps make up 80 percent of the current farm bill, costing $770 billion over the next 10 years.
- Food stamp spending is projected to remain permanently and significantly above pre-recession levels.
- Were food stamp spending returned to pre-recession (2007) levels, and increased at the rate of inflation, it would produce 10-year savings of $340 billion. The current farm bill calls for only $4 billion in savings.
The rapid increase in assistance is remarkably similar to the rapid decrease in the ratio of workers to Social Security/Medicare recipients, and it’s just as unsustainable. It’s also a demonstration of how absurd the program has become. We are the wealthiest nation on Earth, and yet 1 in 7 Americans have to get food assistance? More than 40% of us don’t pay federal income taxes, which means the burden of these costs fall on fewer and fewer Americans as well — about 4 in 7, if that. That kind of ratio will lead us to the same entitlement crunch we’re already barreling toward with Social Security and Medicare.
As for the notion floated in this video by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand that food stamps are an economic stimulus, the data itself shows that to be entirely false. If that were the case, then we would be seeing an explosion of economic growth compared to 30 years ago, when the ratios and spending were much smaller in real dollars. Instead, the costs force the government to pull capital out of current and future markets to pay for the assistance, which then has to also fund massive indirect costs in bureaucracies and red tape (much of it necessary, much of it not). The opportunity costs are enormous, as are the interest costs, and almost all of that will fall on the shoulders of our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
The 171% multiplier is sheer, unadulterated fantasy; if it were true, then the top-down control economies of the 20th century would have prevailed. Instead, they all collapsed, except for China, which had to adopt limited forms of capitalism to survive. One might think we would have learned a lesson for that and designed safety-net programs carefully to catch those who truly need saving, while avoiding the strangulation of future generations.
Update: The bullet list was released by Republican staff on the Senate Budget Committee. I’ve fixed it above.