A Tale of two subsidies:
Subsidies make an economy work. After all, very little could be accomplished without collaboration. Residents of Wallowa County know this as well as anyone. We are no strangers to government subsidies. Ranchers benefit from subsidized grazing fees — in fact, the U.S. Department of the Interior just lowered grazing fees on public lands to the tune of $1.35 per AUM.
Between 1995 and 2017 Wallowa county agriculture also realized a whopping $59.5 million in subsidies. And this is good. Food costs less while demand remains high. Producers sell more, consumers buy more: it’s common sense.
Locals delight in buying Wallowa County beef and produce. It helps when local ranchers and farmers produce some of the best food money can buy. And importantly, we take care of our own in Wallowa County. So these subsidies not only benefit the farmers and ranchers directly, they benefit the community as a whole.
But there’s another equally important subsidy program that’s often overlooked but achieves the same end. In fact, it’s inception began with the very same notion. We’re talking about food stamps, or SNAP —Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. What many don’t realize is that the genesis of food stamps was lobbied by rural farmers during the great depression.
Initially the idea wasn’t so much targeted at feeding the hungry, rather it was an attempt to safeguard the price of food in rural America and stabilize markets — a demand-side economic concept.
For reasons that evade the Wallowa County Chieftain editorial board, SNAP, unlike agricultural subsidies, is left with a bad rap based on unfounded misconceptions. An opponent might suggest that SNAP only benefits non-working freeloaders. Simply not true. Others might falsely argue high levels of fraud. Even less true.
Largely because of the higher than normal level of seasonable employment, Wallowa County receives slightly higher numbers of food stamp allotment than the rest of Oregon and in some cases the nation. In 2016, 15 percent of Wallowa County residents were deemed food insecure, whereas 13 percent of Oregonians were similarly food insecure. Most SNAP recipients either work at least seasonally and or have children to provide for. In fact, 24 percent of children benefit from SNAP resources.
So while the program’s genesis wasn’t designed to feed the hungry, it evolved to that point primarily after then Attorney General Robert Kennedy shed light on desperate poverty in Appalachia in the 1960s, coupled with a sizable expansion under the Nixon Administration.
In 2018 annual federal SNAP dollars spent by the federal government totaled $1.3 million. For context, agriculture subsidies for the year 2017 totaled $2,310,532. But to reiterate, this good not just for the individual recipients but also for our whole community.
So while it’s evident that feeding the hungry is a good thing, it’s good also to remember that it benefits the economy as well, just as farm subsidies are good economic stabilizers. Report after report shows that for every dollar we put into SNAP, our GDP benefits from roughly $1.79, according to the USDA. That’s almost a two-hundred percent return on our collective investment.
Furthermore, the Economic Policy Institution, says “SNAP has kept over 5 million people out of poverty.”
But is there fraud? Forbes reported that less than one percent of all SNAP recipients engage in fraud. That’s one percent out of more than 46 million beneficiaries compared to 5 million people lifted out of poverty — so let’s not be so quick to throw the baby out with the bath water.
Many economists call this ‘demand-side’ or ‘middle-out’ economics. The idea is that when we put money into the hands of folks who by necessity spend it all, the local economy grows. In a community like ours, ‘middle-out-economic’ policies can go a long way. And they do.
In short, SNAP is not a drain on our cash resources … far from it. It grows the economy and we all benefit, just like we all benefit from cheaper food as a result of low grazing fees and farm subsidies.
Low-income people spend the money they have …. they have no other choice. So all of this money goes directly into the local economy, increases demand and supports our ranchers, our farmers and our markets. It’s been among the most efficient and effective spending programs this nation has ever seen.
The current Administration has now prioritized making drastic cuts to the SNAP program. In 2018 it even suggested returning to food boxes, doing nothing but take local autonomy from Wallowa County residents to buy Wallowa County food.
A local economy like ours is like an ecosystem. Let’s treat it delicately and promote the program’s work.