Ethics Aside, SNAP Is Good for the Economy

02/13/2014 06:15 pm ET | Updated Apr 15, 2014

Congress finally compromised on a farm bill, which left the Senate with 68 votes in its favor on February 4th. This bill seals the fate of SNAP, the current food stamp program, for the next ten years. The cuts to SNAP -- about $8.6 billion over the next decade -- are a compromise between the Democratic proposal to cut $4 billion and the Republican proposal to cut $40 billion.

If SNAP cuts actually reduced the deficit, I would understand why lawmakers might be so willing to make them. While I believe SNAP is worth its alleged cost, I could respect the reasoning behind this relatively modest 1 percent decrease in funding.

But, wait a second. SNAP cuts don't save money. SNAP actually improves the long term health of the United States economy. So tell me again why we're cutting the program?

It's somewhat counterintuitive, but SNAP is an investment. SNAP money is immediately spent and sends a ripple effect throughout the economy. In short, the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities found that every dollar spent on SNAP generates at least $1.70 in economic activity. The United States Department of Agriculture saw that each billion dollars spent into SNAP creates 3300 farm jobs and an estimated 8,900-17,900 additional full-time jobs. And the International Labor Office confirmed that well-fed workers are more productive, working more efficiently and taking fewer sick days.

But that's just the beginning. Well-nourished students have been proven time and time and time again to perform better in school than their malnourished counterparts. Education is accepted to be the best way out of poverty -- children who receive SNAP benefits are poor.

Then, consider the costs of long-term health problems. Undernourishment increases a person's risk of obesity, and SNAP helps mitigate this risk. Obesity costs the US about $200 billion each year. Malnourishment, even if only temporary, is often devastating to a person's long-term health. In fact, the Copenhagen Consensus estimates that every dollar invested in nutrition generates up to 138 dollars in improved health and productivity.

Really, if our government wants to help the economy recover, it should be extending SNAP funding, not cutting it. SNAP reductions are a short-term way to reduce the deficit that give the appearance of having saved money, despite destroying potential economic growth.

SNAP's opponents love to bring up fraud, but in reality there is extremely little fraud within the program. SNAP trafficking, where SNAP benefits are illegally sold for cash, accounts for only 1.8 cents out of each SNAP dollar, and trafficking actually fell after funding to SNAP was increased. No, it's not a perfect program, but it's far more efficient that it's made out to be.

It's disturbing that the same people who threw away $24 billion shutting down the government last fall are willing to cut SNAP as "unnecessary spending."

These decisions regarding SNAP are made by people who will not suffer any of its costs. It's easy to dismiss the program as inessential when you personally do not benefit from it, but when it comes down to it, SNAP really is an crucial program. Currently, about 1 in 7 Americans receive SNAP benefits, 87 percent of whom living in households with children, seniors or people with disabilities. The program does as promised -- it decreases the likelihood of food insecurity by 30 percent and pulls Americans of poverty, including 2.4 million children in 2005 alone.

In reducing SNAP, we're targeting those who truly cannot afford it. A several dollar cut in a well-off person's food budget each month is nothing -- for the truly needy, it can be devastating.

But these arguments are almost irrelevant because SNAP saves money in the long term. SNAP, regardless of a person's ethical stance, is good for the economy. Supporting SNAP is supporting economic growth; cutting it is just the opposite.