In three months, 1.8 million Pennsylvanians -- including 740,000 children -- will lose some of their food-aid benefits because a federal stimulus program is set to expire. That cut is bad enough, but some members of Congress seek even more devastating reductions in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps.
As social policy, slashing SNAP is cruel. As economic policy, it's dumb and counterproductive, especially as Pennsylvania continues to struggle to overcome the Great Recession.
When President Barack Obama and Congress in 2009 enacted the key stimulus measure, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, they included a modest increase in food stamp benefits. The goals were to help strengthen the economy and assist households whose heads were unemployed or working at jobs that didn't pay well enough to keep food on the table.
Once that increase goes away on Nov. 1, a Pennsylvania family of four will lose $36 a month in food aid. The state's average monthly food stamp benefit is $264 per household.
The SNAP cut will cost Pennsylvania $183 million in the next fiscal year, the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates.
Mr. Obama and some lawmakers want to ease the across-the-board reduction, but Congress is unlikely to go along. The cut will reduce SNAP spending by $5 billion a year. But that may be just the beginning.
The Republican-controlled House rejected a farm bill that would have reduced the program by $20 billion, denied benefits to 2 million Americans and offered states incentives to cut off even more families -- because it didn't go far enough. GOP lawmakers now propose a $40 billion cut in food stamps -- half the size of the program.
It's hard to know whom these lawmakers want to punish. More than 47 million Americans, including 22 million children and 9 million old or seriously disabled people, use food stamps.
But for those bottom-line types who are more concerned with economic growth than social welfare, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calculates that every $1 increase in SNAP aid generates $1.70 in economic activity. Food stamps aren't hoarded; they're spent immediately, and the money circulates in the local economy.
Pennsylvania food banks, pantries and other charities do an admirable job of helping their hungry neighbors, but they can't do it alone. The help provided by SNAP is a modest but essential lifeline. Cutting the program further would hurt a lot of vulnerable Pennsylvanians -- many of whom live in Republican congressional districts.