08/20/2013 04:42 pm ET Updated Oct 20, 2013

Why the Republican Math on Food Stamps Is Stupidly Wrong

As I predicted in an earlier piece, the Republican move of separating the food stamps bill from the farm bill was nothing but a crafty ploy to preserve farm subsidies and then gut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at their leisure later. Unfortunately, I was right.

The upcoming Republican plan to cut SNAP spending by $40 billion over 10 years will cut assistance for as many as 6 million Americans. That means 6 million people will be denied food when they need it.

That is disturbing in itself but let's look at the rationale of the Republican stance to see if it makes sense. Part of the GOP's proposal includes tightening work requirements for able-bodied childless adults, who they believe should be held to a higher standard. Fair enough. After all, if you are capable of working for a living, then why should you burden the system with feeding you?

The only problem is that there is a very good reason that 45 states have relaxed this work requirement in recent years -- including several Republican states, and that has to do with the high rate of unemployment in America right now. To expect someone who can feasibly work to do so is perfectly reasonable, but workers do not create their own jobs. If there are no jobs in our economy, then how can even an able-bodied childless person be expected to find work? They cannot, and so to hold Americans' feet to the fire on this is simply wrong.

Plus, the emphasis on the work requirement is based on the belief that many food stamps recipients are freeloading off the system, but that is false. The fact is that 80 percent of SNAP recipients who can work actually do work! Not to mention that the Republican proposal would also hurt senior citizens and working families, who cannot afford food because of high housing and child care costs.

But even if you forget about right and wrong, since that usually does not sway the GOP anyway, in purely practical terms too the cuts to the food stamps program are indefensible.

Here is why. If a person cannot find work and is unable to obtain food, what exactly do the Republicans think that person will do? Retreat into the shadows and die quietly? Migrate to the mountains and live off berries until the job market improves? Of course not. People with no available means to make a living, wracked by hunger, and desperate to survive, will not just disappear to avoid inconveniencing others, but will instead beg, steal, or kill, to stay alive. That is not a threat -- that is simply human nature and harsh reality.

And this will in turn lead to increased homelessness, poverty, disease, and crime. All of these things carry a heavy cost for society both in dollar terms as well as in terms of the integrity of our social contract, and you do not need a Congressional Budget Office report to recognize that the ultimate price tag could be considerably higher than $4 billion a year.

But that is something the GOP willfully refuses to factor into its calculations -- so obsessed is the party with cutting the budget and so opposed to helping the poor that it is willing to fudge the math to get there. The irony, of course, is that even though Republicans are diehard capitalists, and even though a simple cost-benefit analysis would reveal that keeping SNAP intact is the cheaper option, they are unable to apply even that principle here because of their fanaticism.

That is not governing and it is not even smart politicking; that is just bad old-fashioned stupidity.

SANJAY SANGHOEE is a political and business commentator. He has worked at leading investment banks and hedge funds, has appeared on CNBC's 'Closing Bell' and HuffPost Live on business topics, and is the author of two thriller novels, including "Killing Wall Street". For more information, please visit