On Thursday afternoon, the House will vote on (and probably pass) a proposal to significantly reduce the cost of the nation's food stamp program by greatly reducing the number of people eligible to receive them. Here are our estimates of how many residents of each House district could be kicked off the rolls, which helps illustrate the real-world impact of the vote.
(Update, 4:00 p.m.: The 2012 Census data on food stamp use by Congressional District was released this morning, as George Washington University's Andrew Reamer pointed out to us. The table at the bottom of this post and some figures and text within it have been updated.)
As we noted earlier this week, the funding cut seems simple in the abstract. Tighten the qualifications, save some dough — about $4 billion a year, or 0.1 percent of the government's 2013 outlays. In practice, though, it means cutting benefits for 3.8 million of the expected 48 million participants in 2014. Some of those people will lose benefits because they live in areas that already see high unemployment. (The has Center on Budget and Policy Priorities full details.)
It's hard to know how many of those 48 million participants each member of Congress represents. There are a lot of variables at play: participant rates, qualifications, and so on. Given that the decision will be made by a group of 435 representatives of those people, we figured we'd try to estimate the sort of impact each district might see.
In order to do so, we took state food stamp enrollment rates for 2011 and compared them to 2011 poverty levels in each congressional district in the current Congress. That allowed us to approximate how many of each of those recipients were in each district — and then how many people each district would have lost had the policy gone into effect evenly in 2011. (Two important notes: 2011 was the most recent year for which poverty and participation rates were available; the reduction is applied uniformly. This approximation is very rough.)
Here's the overall difference between districts represented in 2013 by Republicans and Democrats under our formula.
|Average 2011 participation, est.||Average 2011 annual cost, est.||Average per-district reduction, est.||Cumulative reduction, est.|
(Update, 4:00 p.m.: Using the 2012 data, the reduction estimate in Republican districts is 617,889 households; in Democratic, 630,840 households.)
In other words, per our estimates, if this policy had gone into effect in 2011, the average district represented by a Republican now would have seen 7,500 people lose benefits. The average Democratic district would have seen 8,800 people kicked off the rolls. The districts that would have seen the largest reductions are Democratic ones, correlating loosely to poverty rates.
The Republican district that would have seen the biggest reduction is Kentucky's Fifth, represented by Rep. Hal Rogers — who is also chair of the House appropriations committee. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he told Politico that he's wary of the proposal.
"There are some good reforms here and I think as chairman of a major committee, it would be tough not to vote for this,' Rogers said. "But to say I’m concerned, yes."
Under our estimate, around 15,000 residents of his district would have been kicked off the rolls in 2011 had the legislation passed. The bill, the "Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013," is sponsored by Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma. About 9,000 fewer people in his district would have receive supplemental funding for food had his bill been enacted in 2011. The bill has no co-sponsors, but one key amendment requiring any recipient be screened by E-Verify was added by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California. Some 3,800 people in his district would have lost food stamps had the bill been passed in 2011 — assuming they all passed an E-Verify screening verifying their eligibility to work in the U.S.
In July, Rep. George Miller of California (4,600 of whose constituents would have lost food stamps) called out 14 of his colleagues that wanted to maintain farm subsidies in the omnibus Farm Bill package, while looking to cut food stamp coverage. Combined, the 14 members of Congress represent districts that would have seen 112,000 people kicked off the voter rolls if this bill had gone into effect in 2011. In July, the House passed a renewal of farm subsidies with few cuts.
This data is only a rough estimate, of course. Since 2011, the number of people using food stamps each month nationally has grown 2.6 percent, according to the USDA. Meaning that many of these numbers are more likely to be lower than the number of people actually affected if the bill became law than higher.
Complete estimate list
Photo: This photo taken Saturday June 1, 2013, in Fresno, Calif. shows farmworker Cristina Melendez sitting in front of her mother's apartment, as her 5-year-old daughter Lupita Yarelin cries. Melendez, a Mexico native, and her seven U.S. citizen children have for years struggled with poverty, but without legal status, Melendez can’t file for unemployment when there's no work in the fields and only obtains food stamps for her kids. (AP)