Signs of funding cuts for public nutrition in Trump budget

Congress would shear $6 billion from food stamps and the Women and Infants (WIC) food program along with eliminating two overseas food-aid programs, according to data leaked to the think tank Third Way. Proposals to cut farm subsidies and federally subsidized crop insurance in fiscal 2018 also are expected in the Trump administration budget to be released on Tuesday.

A spreadsheet leaked to Third Way listed $73.6 billion for food stamps, the largest U.S. anti-hunger program, and $5.15 billion for WIC, which provides additional food and health referrals to pregnant women, new mothers and children.

By comparison, Congress approved $78.6 billion, including a $3 billion reserve fund, for food stamps for the current fiscal year, or $5 billion more than in the spreadsheet, and $6.35 billion for WIC, $1 billion more. In mid-March, the White House called for $6.2 billion for WIC “to serve all projected participants” in fiscal 2018.

“There are a lot of numbers in this proposed budget, but our initial reading is that it is harsh toward the poor and those struggling to reach the middle class,” said Jim Cowan, president of Third Way, in releasing the data dated May 8. The spreadsheet did not show the reasoning behind its line item figures. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said the White House package might cut “basic food assistance provided through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps)…and basic aid to struggling families through other mandatory programs.”

Due to economic recovery, the cost of public-nutrition programs is declining. Food stamps peaked at nearly $80 billion, with 47.7 million participants, in fiscal 2013 during the aftermath of the 2008-09 recession. The caseload is expected to average 42.6 million people this year.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated food-stamp costs would fall $2.3 billion in fiscal 2018 compared to the current year, because of a lower jobless rate and fewer recipients. The CBO did not estimate WIC costs.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told the House Agriculture Committee last week that SNAP “has been a very effective, important program.” Responding to questions from Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, who was concerned by talk of converting food stamps to a block grant or restricting eligibility, Perdue said, “As far as I’m concerned, we have no proposed changes. You don’t try to fix things that aren’t broken.”

House Agriculture chairman Michael Conaway says he wants “meaningful reforms” in food stamps, focusing on stricter limits on benefits for able-bodied adults without dependents. “Work is going to be a big deal for people who are otherwise able to do it,” Conaway told reporters in March.

The White House budget plan will call for “historically deep budget cuts across government,” including food stamps and farm subsidies, said Bloomberg, based on material from unnamed officials.

The CBO estimated crop subsidies would cost $8.7 billion this year and $9.6 billion in the coming year. Mandatory spending on land stewardship — chiefly the land-idling Conservation Reserve — would run at $1.9 billion in each year. Crop insurance was forecast at $7 billion this year and $7.5 billion in the coming year.

According to the leaked spreadsheet leaked, funding would be eliminated for the workhorse U.S. food aid program, Food for Peace, which donates U.S.-grown food to alleviate hunger overseas, and for the McGovern-Dole school food program, which provides one meal a day to children in developing nations. Food for Peace was given $1.6 billion for this fiscal year and McGovern-Dole was given $202 million.

Like the mid-March proposal from the White House, the spreadsheet given to Third Way indicates large cuts in rural economic development programs. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said the administration “continues its assault on rural communities by slashing” development programs.