Friday, October 20, 2023

Christopher Bosso's "Why SNAP Works"

Christopher Bosso is Professor of Public Policy and Politics in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University, Boston.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Why SNAP Works: A Political History―and Defense―of the Food Stamp Program, and reported the following:
From page 99:
While antihunger advocates expressed concerns about budget-driven income-cutoff limits for free stamps, the Senate in September 1969 adopted the administration’s proposals through a set of amendments to the Food Stamp Act. But movement stopped at House Agriculture, where [Chairman] Bob Poage declared that he was holding the amendments hostage, in trade for concessions on commodity programs when the Farm Bill went up for reauthorization the following year. Poage and other farm-bloc House Democrats were concerned that under stricter budget constraints more funds for food stamps would be at the expense of farm programs, so tying the two into a single legislative package would keep urban Democrats in the fold against Republican opposition to spending on either… For Poage and other House Committee on Agriculture members, the proverbial shoe was now on the other foot: an ever-shrinking cohort of House members from farming areas needed nutrition programs to keep their commodity supports, and the Food Stamp Program was their bargaining chip.
Page 99 in Why SNAP Works unspools the political calculations House members representing farming areas were making in late 1969 as their urban counterparts sought to expand the Food Stamp Program in response to renewed national attention to hunger in America. New president Richard Nixon was about to convene the first White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health, part of his effort to get in front of the domestic hunger issue – and to head off George McGovern, a likely challenger in 1972. The Food Stamp Program was first authorized in 1964 only after urban House Democrats stonewalled a cotton and wheat support bill sought by their rural colleagues, who initially opposed a “welfare” program for poor people. While the southern conservatives who dominated the House Agriculture Committee ultimately relented in voting for the Food Stamp Act, they kept the program on a short leash despite evidence of widespread need. By 1969, however, the power dynamics had changed; rural conservatives saw their political power shrinking as the nation urbanized and understood that any continued congressional support for farm programs depended on making deals with Food Stamp Program supporters. This “food programs + farm programs” bargain would be formalized in 1973 when Congress nested the Food Stamp Act within the Farm Bill, and fifty years later remains the pivot point of legislative support for what is now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. In this regard, Page 99 shows the initial stages of what would be a decades-long dynamic, a forced marriage of awkward partners that continues to explain SNAP’s remarkable political resilience.

Page 99 is, fortunately, an accurate reflection of the book’s focus on the politics of food stamps / SNAP over the program’s long history, and an indicator of the political calculations that continue to define the program’s remarkable resilience.
Learn more about Why SNAP Works at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue