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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Quick: What Does a $40 Billion Cut to Food Stamps Mean? (And How Many Years Is That Over?)

Quick: What Does a $40 Billion Cut to Food Stamps Mean? (And How Many Years Is That Over?)

Monday, 05 August 2013 05:25

I have been harshly critical of budget reporting in the media for being uninformative to readers. I think the NYT is trying to help me make my point. It ran an article telling readers about GOP plans to have a $40 billion cut in food stamp spending. 

Okay how much money is that? Will all of us taxpayers see big savings if we cut back food stamps by this amount?

Well, if we go to the Center for Economic and Policy Research's new super neat budget calculator we would see that $40 billion is equal to 1.2 percent of projected spending this year.

But wait! If I'm not mistaken -- yes, while it is not mentioned in this article, these cuts are actually for a 10-year appropriation, starting in 2014. According to the calculator that would be 0.086 percent of projected spending over this period. (Hey one year, ten years, who can keep track?) This means that the cuts may be a big deal for the people affected, but probably will not allow for many extra vacations for ordinary taxpayers.

Come on folks, these articles are supposed to be providing information to readers. This one did not.

Comments (11)Add Comment
NYT piece misses other vital information
written by Robert Salzberg, August 05, 2013 6:53
The NYT piece also gave a confusing summary of the already scheduled cuts to SNAP benefits due to an expiring provision of the 2099 stimulus act:

"According to the center’s report, beginning Nov. 1, a family of three will see a reduction of about $29 a month — $319 for the remaining 11 months of the next fiscal year. The report said the cut would result in an average of less than $1.40 per person, per meal."

The CBPP really said:

"Without the Recovery Act’s boost, SNAP benefits will average less than $1.40 per person per meal in 2014."

One could read the NYT analysis as saying the cuts on average would be less than $1.40 per person per meal since the NYT piece never let readers in on the fact that the average monthly benefit per person for SNAP is $133.41. (For 2012, the last year data is available.)

The NYT piece left out many critical details contained in the CBPP report including the fact that the scheduled cut in November would be the first country wide cut in food stamp benefits in U.S. history, that the scheduled cut would amount to $5 billion in fiscal 2014 alone and that:

" This cut will be the equivalent of taking away 21 meals per month for a family of four, or 16 meals for a family of three, based on calculations using the $1.70 to $2 per meal provided for in the Thrifty Food Plan. "

Wow! Even Paul Krugman and NYT editors are confused
written by Robert Salzberg, August 05, 2013 7:05
From today's Krugman column:

"Then House leaders announced plans to hold a vote cutting spending on food stamps in half — a demand that is likely to sink the already struggling effort to agree with the Senate on a farm bill."

The $40 billion dollar cut is for 10 years not one year so it's not a 50% cut but a 5% cut. (Krugman just posted on his blog about his mistake, promising a formal correction soon.)
written by medgeek, August 05, 2013 8:37
Yes, Paul (& his editors) blew it today. All the more reason for everyone, includeing Nobel prize winners, to use Dean's super-duper budget calculator!
written by skeptonomist, August 05, 2013 8:40
The NYT article that Dean links is not the only one. Google "republican food stamp cuts" and you will see $40B in almost every hit. This stuff must have a single point of origin somewhere - is it a press release, or maybe a wire report?
written by medgeek, August 05, 2013 8:50
That should be including, not includeing. I guess I should have paid attention to the spell checker...
written by skeptonomist, August 05, 2013 8:57
Fox News seems to be the only one that got it right (5% cut) in the headline.
written by Widgetmaker, August 05, 2013 12:20
Stay on it, Dr Baker. Choke and chew with a bulldog grip.

I'm a sophisticated reader and it took me years before I realized that budget numbers were 10 year figures. And it took lots and lots of reading before I developed a sense of their relative magnitudes.

Journalists and editors need to be made aware of this common sense approach to reporting. Report the numbers alone conveys NOTHING, but they persist in following that convention. It will probably take a lifelong campaign to get the message through.
What level constitutes a "national embarrasment" ?
written by Perplexed, August 05, 2013 1:22
-"According to the calculator that would be 0.086 percent of projected spending over this period."

Yes, and an increase of the same magnitude would only cost this amount and be enormously beneficial to those who qualify for these paltry benefits. What percentage are children? Does anyone really doubt that historians will be able to put these numbers in perspective?
While I agree with your point...
written by Carl Weetabix, August 05, 2013 3:38
It goes both ways - how big is $40 billion over 10 years to the recipients?

Now, it might look very big or it might look very small and that would still be good to know.

Don't get me wrong, I'm on the side of the food stamp recipients, but want to avoid bias in the conversation...
written by http://newjake.blogs.experienceproject.com/1984802.html, August 05, 2013 10:46
We should know how big cuts to beneficiaries
written by Dean, August 06, 2013 5:28

I'm arguing to make the budget issues understandable, I'm all for showing them as a percent of beneficiaries' income. Like everyone else I have a sense of what I consider good or bad spending, but the job of the media has to be to inform people about what is at issue -- they have not.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.