Yesterday, the Senate passed a new childhood nutrition bill that increases spending on food for children, mostly through school lunch, summer- and after-school meal programs, and the Women, Infants and Children program, by $4.5 billion. This is the plan about which Michelle Obama wrote an op-ed in support of this past week, urging the Senate to pass it before August. It's partly paid for with money gained from rolling back increases to the Food-stamp program (which was also used as a way to offset increased spending in a state aid bill to prevent teacher layoffs and increase Medicaid funding support).
It's worth noting that the increases in the food-stamp program were designed in the stimulus bill to be phased out once food-price inflation caught up to the expanded benefits, but because inflation was lower than expected, the benefits were going to last longer than anyone originally expected. It's hard to imagine a situation in which politicians wouldn't view those bigger-than-expected increases as free money. And it's a small comfort to know the pot was raided for good rather than for ill.
But it's counterproductive, and counterintuitive, to try to alleviate the hunger children face because their families don't have enough money for food by decreasing the amount of money their families have for food. Their might be a political reason for this -- healthier school lunches benefit all kids who eat school lunches, and therefore might be an easier sell. But the food-stamp assistance that families get is ridiculously low -- the average household receives about $4 per day per member -- and most of the people who receive benefits are profoundly poor. Food stamps allow them to participate in their local economies by spending more money at the grocery store, which supports that store, the growers, etc. That's an important stimulative effect during the recession, but there's no reason to think it doesn't benefit society to have those families actively participating in the economy when times get a little better, either. That doesn't even touch the benefits to those families being able to afford more food or suffer less economic devastation elsewhere because they have to spend all of their money at the grocery store.
-- Monica Potts