Archived Story

US House approves deep cut in food stamp program

Published 12:59pm Friday, September 20, 2013

WASHINGTON — The House has voted to cut nearly $4 billion a year from food stamps, a 5 percent reduction to the nation’s main feeding program used by more than 1 in 7 Americans.

The 217-210 vote was a win for conservatives after Democrats united in opposition and some GOP moderates said the cut was too high. Fifteen Republicans voted against the measure.

Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), was among those who opposed the measure. “I’ve been working on this farm bill for nearly four years and from the beginning I’ve said that I think it is possible to find some middle ground and make reasonable, responsible reforms to nutrition programs,” Peterson told lawmakers in a floor statement. “Unfortunately, this bill is neither reasonable nor responsible.”

The bill’s savings would be achieved by allowing states to put broad new work requirements in place for many food stamp recipients and to test applicants for drugs. The bill also would end government waivers that have allowed able-bodied adults without dependents to receive food stamps indefinitely.

House conservatives, led by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., have said the almost $80 billion-a-year program has become bloated. More than 47 million Americans are now on food stamps, and the program’s cost more than doubled in the last five years as the economy struggled through the Great Recession. Democrats said the rise in the rolls during tough economic times showed the program was doing its job.

Finding a compromise — and the votes — to scale back the feeding program has been difficult. The conservatives have insisted on larger cuts, Democrats opposed any cuts and some moderate Republicans from areas with high food stamp usage have been wary of efforts to slim the program. The White House has threatened to veto the bill.

“All this bill is going to do is make it harder, if not impossible, to pass a new farm bill this Congress,” said Peterson, who is the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee.

House leaders were still shoring up votes on the bill just hours before the vote. To make their case, the Republican leaders emphasized that the bill targets able-bodied adults who don’t have dependents. And they say the broader work requirements in the bill are similar to the 1996 welfare law that led to a decline in people receiving that government assistance.

“This bill is designed to give people a hand when they need it most,” Cantor said on the floor just before the bill passed. “And most people don’t choose to be on food stamps. Most people want a job … They want what we want.”

The new work requirements proposed in the bill would allow states to require 20 hours of work activities per week from any able-bodied adult with a child over age 1 if that person has child care available. The requirements would be applicable to all parents whose children are over age 6 and attending school.

The legislation is the House’s effort to finish work on a wide-ranging farm bill, which has historically included both farm programs and food stamps. The House Agriculture Committee approved a combined bill earlier this year, but it was defeated on the floor in June after conservatives revolted, saying the cuts to food stamps weren’t high enough. That bill included around $2 billion in cuts annually.

After the farm bill defeat, Republican leaders split the legislation in two and passed a bill in July that included only farm programs. They promised the food stamp bill would come later, with deeper cuts.

In order to negotiate the bill with the Senate, Republicans said Thursday that one more step is needed — the House will have to hold a procedural vote to allow both the farm and food stamp bills to go to a House-Senate conference together. It is unclear whether Republicans who pushed to split the two bills will oppose that effort.

  • Richard Olson

    Half of Food Stamp Recipients Are Children
    by Rania Khalek on September 20, 2013
    Last night, House Republicans passed a bill that cuts $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps, one of the few safety nets available to the 47 million Americans living below the poverty line.
    Nevertheless, a majority of our elected representatives seem to view food as a luxury that the poor are unworthy of, which is stunning considering that nearly half of food stamp recipients are children and another 26 percent are adults living with children.

    On top of that, over a quarter of SNAP recipients live in households with seniors or people with disabilities.
    It’s unbelievable that in the so-called richest nation on earth, where over 16 million children are living in food insecure households, one of the first things on the GOP chopping block is food aid.
    The “Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act”, if passed by the Senate, would deny food assistance to 3.8 million low-income Americans in 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
    According to the Center on Budget Priorities (CBPP), the bill would increase hunger for the following people:
    1.7 million unemployed, childless adults in 2014 who live in areas of high unemployment — a group that has average income of only 22 percent of the poverty line (about $2,500 a year for a single individual) and for whom SNAP is, in most cases, the only government assistance they receive (this number will average 1 million a year over the coming decade);
    2.1 million people in 2014, mostly low-income working families and low-income seniors, who have gross incomes or assets modestly above the federal SNAP limits but disposable income — the income that a family actually has available to spend on food and other needs — below the poverty line in most cases often because of high rent or child care costs. (This number will average 1.8 million a year over the coming decade.) In addition, 210,000 children in these families would also lose free school meals;
    Other poor, unemployed parents who want to work but cannot find a job or an opening in a training program — along with their children, other than infants.
    House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the architect of this latest GOP victory, argues that the cuts are necessary because their are too many people “that choose to abuse the system.”
    “Frankly it’s wrong for hard-working middle-class Americans to pay for that,” says Cantor.
    But SNAP is one of the most efficient government run programs and it essentially pays for itself. As the CBPP points out:
    Economists consider SNAP one of the most effective forms of economic stimulus.  Moody’s Analytics estimates that in a weak economy, every dollar increase in SNAP benefits generates about $1.70 in economic activity.  Similarly, CBO rated an increase in SNAP benefits as one of the two most cost-effective of all spending and tax options it examined for boosting growth and jobs in a weak economy.
    Furthermore, the CBPP notes that “SNAP has one of the most rigorous payment error measurement systems of any public benefit program,” and “Only 1 percent, or $1 in every $100 of SNAP benefits, is trafficked.” So the argument that cuts are necessary to prevent abuse of the program is bullshit at best.
    Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), who praised the bill’s tough work requirements for SNAP applicants, remarked, “you can no longer sit on your couch…and expect the federal taxpayer to feed you.”
    Someone should tell Huelskamp that there are currently three unemployed Americans for every one job opening and that the overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who are able to work are employed, but the wages are so low, they still require food assistance to survive.
    If Huelskamp and his Republican ilk are so invested in reducing reliance on food assistance, perhaps they should focus their energy on raising the minimum wage, a move that would surely lower the need for SNAP. But when the House had the opportunity to raise the minimum wage in March, the GOP majority unanimously voted it down. Some in the GOP have even floated the idea of eliminating the minimum wage all together.
    I suppose this is what happens when the majority of our elected representatives are millionaires completely disconnected from the daily struggles of their low-income constituents. In the US House of Representatives alone, the average wealth is $6.5 million.
    Still, having millions in assets is no excuse for the empathy deficit on display in Congress. Because the ultimate victims of the GOP’s latest attack are pre-school and school-age children. For kids, hunger has serious and irreversible consequences, like poor physical and mental health and lower academic achievement.
    The GOP is sending a clear message to these children: tough luck, you’re on your own.

  • Walt Henry

    To those who claim to love this country, seemingly wish to worship our founding fathers and long for a return to the time when we were a nation closer to God, here comes one of those pesky facts–of the 360plus slaves on the estates of George Washington, 42% of them were either too old or too young to work yet he saw they were fed. Are the actions of the GOP a reflection of Washington’s concern for human life, even life he thought to be of a more meager class?

    • Walt Henry

      Correction–316 slaves (accurate facts matter)

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