DENVER – Groups that advocate for children, the elderly and people with disabilities are rolling up their sleeves in the wake of the budget passed last week in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The measure includes $150 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, over the next decade.
Joel McClurg, director of public policy with Hunger Free Colorado, says slashing social programs to make room for tax breaks for corporations and wealthy Americans would directly impact Colorado’s most vulnerable residents. “Any cuts to this program means that ultimately what you’re going to have to do is make a decision about which children, or which elderly, or which disabled Americans are still eligible for benefits and which of those populations – which comprise the vast majority of the food stamp program – will no longer be eligible for benefits,” he states.
In La Plata County, Human Services Director Martha Johnson said about 1,750 households received food assistance every month from January to July of this year. From July 2016 to June 2017, La Plata County residents received more than $5.4 million in food assistance, she said.
“Having the difference of food assistance to help these families meet their basic needs can make a huge difference in their ability to function on a day-to-day basis,” Johnson said.
A recent analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy of the GOP’s proposal found 60 percent of the tax cuts would go to Coloradans making more than $500,000 a year, and people who make $1 million a year would see a boost in their after-tax income of $170,000 on average.
Proponents of cutting SNAP benefits maintain vulnerable populations still will receive benefits, and argue the goal is to encourage more people to join the workforce.
McClurg points out jobs that pay a living wage are especially hard to find in rural parts of the country still recovering from the Great Recession. He said more than half of families that get food stamps are working, and the majority of recipients, including children, seniors and people with disabilities, are not expected to work.
“It’s really important to reach out to your members of Congress and to let them know how you’re feeling about these nutrition assistance programs,” McClurg said. “Because in Colorado, in 2016, 235,000 food stamp recipients were children who need that assistance to really build that strong foundation.”
Liane Jollon, executive director of San Juan Basin Public Health, said that malnourished children are more vulnerable to illness and twice as likely to have health problems. “We strongly believe that all members of our community need consistent access to high-quality, nutritious food,” Jollon said. “This is a program that makes sure they have enough food to be healthy.”
The Republican budget also calls for $10 billion in Farm Bill cuts, which McClurg notes would disproportionately affect food stamps.
Colorado’s delegation voted along party lines, with the exception of Republican Ken Buck, who joined Democratic Reps. Diana DeGette, Ed Perlmutter and Jared Polis in voting against the proposal. Liz Payne, a spokeswoman for Rep. Scott Tipton wrote in an email that budget resolutions do not have the force of law. Instead, they serve as frameworks to guide the appropriations process.
“The FY18 budget also has reconciliation instructions that will be the vehicle for tax reform, which Congressman Tipton has been working towards in order to allow Coloradans to keep more of the money they earn,” Payne wrote.
Liz Stellrecht, support service specialist for Manna Soup Kitchen, said the proposed cuts would not affect the nonprofit’s operation. However, many of the people that rely on Manna could be affected. “I can’t even imagine how this will affect these families,” she said. “If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, like so many people are doing in our county, you have to rely on benefits such as food assistance.”
Durango Herald staff writer Jonathan Romeo contributed to this report.