Why businesses are staying mum on a bill to cut food stamps

National supermarket chains don't seem to care about $39 billion

Walmart employee
(Image credit: (David McNew/Getty Images))

Last week, the House of Representatives voted to cut $39 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka food stamps, over the next ten years — a plan that would impact low-income Americans, but also the big food businesses, like Walmart and General Mills, that serve them.

Advocates for America's poor are furious that the measure, by tightening requirements for aid, would eventually push about 3.8 million individuals off food stamps entirely. Calling the cuts "heartless," Donna Brazile on CNN said they were the equivalent of "kicking millions of our families, neighbors and friends when they are down."

The pain doesn't stop there though. The cuts would reverberate beyond those directly effected, says Sasha Abramsky at The New Yorker, noting that food stamps "sustain the economies of low-income neighborhoods, since the money is often spent in those areas' local stores."

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But the economic affects would be felt further still. Money from food stamps is also spent at big chain supermarkets like Walmart, and eventually works its way to food manufacturers and other parts of the economy.

"Fewer families buying less food means less demand for grocery stores and retail, which in turn require less support from trucking and warehousing and need to make fewer purchases from food manufacturers and farmers," says the liberal think tank Center for American Progress. The cuts could result in as many as 11,300 jobs lost in retail, 21,000 jobs lost in food manufacturing and agriculture, and 8,000 jobs lost in trucking and warehousing — losses that would ripple out even further into the economy.

Yet the businesses that would have ultimately wind up with the $39 billion and the lobbying group that represents them, the National Grocers Association, are staying mysteriously quite about the cuts, says Miranda Green in The Daily Beast.

What gives? It turns out a lot of those organizations are big Republican party backers, says Green. She goes on:

The grocer associations and food companies face a political conundrum. They can advocate publicly for businesses benefiting from SNAP funding, and thus ally themselves with the White House and liberal advocacy groups against Washington Republicans. Or they can stay mum on the topic and continue to back Republicans who generally support their agenda on trade, labor, tax, and regulatory issues. [The Daily Beast]

Another reason may be that the bill isn't expected to get very far in the Senate — and even if it somehow did, Obama would likely veto it — so businesses can keep their hands clean and appear politically consistent without any risk to their bottom lines.

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