At the southernmost tip of California’s Central Valley, Kern County produces more vegetables than almost anywhere else in the country. Most of the nation’s carrots are grown here, along with potatoes, lettuce, onions and tomatoes. Despite this bounty, many kids in the county need help getting enough to eat.
According to a 2017 report by Feeding America, a non-profit network of food banks, about 1 in 4 kids in Kern County were food insecure in 2015, meaning they did not have access to enough nutritious food. About 13 percent of households in California’s 23rd Congressional district, which includes Kern County, received food stamps in 2015, and 70 percent of those included children under 18, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the program.
President Donald Trump’s budget, introduced in May, would include a cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, of approximately $193 billion over 10 years — $116 billion by increasing the share states pay, $75.1 billion by changing eligibility and benefit calculations, and $2.4 billion by charging retailers an application and reauthorization fee — which could mean less money for places like Kern County.
White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said the budget intentionally focuses more on those paying taxes than those who might receive benefits such as food subsidies. “So often in Washington I think we look only on the recipient side: How does the budget affect those who either receive or don't receive benefits?” he told reporters on the day the budget was unveiled.
In all of the GOP congressional districts that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, a majority of households that received SNAP benefits in 2015 had children,
And that view is reflected by Kern County’s representative in Congress, U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Leader and one of several California Republicans from centrist districts whose constituents would be hard-hit by proposed cuts in Trump’s 2018 budget.
“For too long we have judged federal programs by how much we spend on them rather than on their outcomes,” McCarthy said in a statement on the budget. “Refocusing on accountability and helping those most in need means spending less money we do not have, higher incomes for hardworking Americans, and better lives for them and their families.”
But Lucy Melcher, director of advocacy and government relations for Share Our Strength, an organization that works to address child hunger, called the changes to cost-sharing with the states “alarming” and said states would have trouble filling in the gap. She said that states, many of which are grappling with their own budget shortfalls, would have an incentive to reduce benefits. Under the proposed budget, states would share 25 percent of the benefit costs by 2023. In California, SNAP provided $7.53 billion in benefits in the 2015 fiscal year.
“Anything we do to undermine (children’s) access to those benefits is going to have a negative impact on their health, their education and their ability to succeed in life,” Melcher said.
According to USDA data, in an average month in the 2015 fiscal year, 43 percent of households receiving SNAP benefits had children — approximately 9.5 million households. But that percentage is significantly higher in some California congressional districts with Republican representatives who will be fighting for their seats in 2018.
In all of the GOP congressional districts that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, a majority of households that received SNAP benefits in 2015 had children, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The most striking is the California 21st district, represented by Congressman David Valadao, where 82.8 percent of SNAP households had kids.
More than 75 percent of households that received SNAP benefits in Congressman Ed Royce’s district, the California 39th, had children under 18. And in the California 49th district, represented by Congressman Darrell Issa, 66.2 percent of households that received SNAP benefits were households with kids. All three districts were carried by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
For Issa, this is an issue for the state government in Sacramento more than the federal government in Washington.
“I’m always concerned about trying to figure out whether the state of California is going to step up to the plate as the highest tax state in the union and begin doing more for our kids,” Issa told McClatchy.
“Obviously the federal government participates and we want to make sure the federal government is a good partner,” he said, “but, as you know, California, with the highest taxes in the nation actually isn’t even in the top 10 when it comes to funding schools, so let’s hope we start doing it.”
A spokesperson for Royce did not respond to request for comment.
If states cut back on SNAP benefits, Melcher said that could hurt kids in the classroom. She said kids who receive SNAP benefits are 18 percent more likely to graduate from high school and that SNAP helps 2 million children escape poverty every year.
Although the budget does not make any direct cuts to the federal school meal programs, Melcher said there could be an indirect impact if SNAP benefits are reduced. She said participation in these programs is often correlated — families who sign up for SNAP often learn that they are eligible for other food aid like free or reduced-price school meals, and in some states there is data sharing between the programs.
“These are families that are living in poverty, they are struggling to get by, and this budget pulls the rug out from under them and puts more roadblocks in front of them as they are trying to move themselves out of poverty,” she said.
Anshu Siripurapu:202-383-6009, Twitter: @AnshuSiripurapu