House Republicans vote to cut food stamp program, but Senate likely to rebuff

Washington — The Republican-led House voted to slash the food stamp program by $40 billion over the next 10 years, but that’s not the end of the story.

The Senate, which had proposed a modest reduction in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the official name for food stamps, is expected to reject what the House has done.

Nevertheless, House Democrats decried approval of the food stamp bill Thursday, approved on a 217-210 vote.

No Democrat voted for it, but it had the support of all but 15 Republicans.

The bill would cause nearly 4 million people to lose benefits, while another 850,000 would see their benefits cut, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

“It’s horrible, it’s terrible, it’s inhuman and it’s wrong,” said Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District. 

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, one of Congress’ staunchest advocates of nutrition programs, said, “the $40 billion in cuts it contains is nothing short of immoral.”

The White House threatened Wednesday to veto the bill, calling food stamps one of the “nation’s strongest defenses against hunger and poverty.”

The food stamp program is traditionally reauthorized in the farm bill, but not this year.

In June, the House rejected a farm bill that would have cut $20 billion from the SNAP program because Democrats opposed the cuts as too severe, and Republicans said it did not go far enough to reduce what they considered a bloated program.

So a House farm program bill was approved without the nutrition title.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Thursday that the nutritional and the farm program bills will now go to the Senate, which approved its own farm bill earlier this year. 

Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, predicted that in negotiations over a final farm bill, the Senate will object to the House’s cuts to the food stamp program.

“They will take it out,” he said.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and an important negotiator in a final farm bill, vowed, “the  House bill will never see the light of day in the Senate.”

On Thursday, farm groups immediately asked Congress to act fast on a final bill.

“Now that the House has passed its nutrition policy portion of the farm bill, the National Milk Producers Federation urges House leaders to quickly appoint conferees who should, with their counterparts in the Senate, finish work on a new farm bill and get it passed into law. It’s harvest time outside of Washington; it needs to be on Capitol Hill as well,” said federation CEO Jim Mulhern.

Until both houses of Congress hash out a final deal, SNAP funding is unsettled.

House Republicans proposed reducing the program by tightening requirements.

Under their bill, states could choose to put new work requirements in place for many food stamp recipients and test applicants for drugs. The bill also would end a stimulus bill program that allows single, childless adults to receive food stamps indefinitely.

According to the USDA, 378,677 people in Connecticut participating in the SNAP program in 2011.

The U.S. Census Bureau shows that, in each of Connecticut’s congressional districts, there’s a wide gap between the income of a family that receives SNAP and one that doesn’t. In the wealthy 4th District, which comprises Fairfield County, a largely suburban area that extends from Bridgeport to Greenwich, households receiving SNAP benefits earned an average of $15,461 in 2011. Households without SNAP benefits earned an average of $88,635 that year. (See below.)

One reason conservative Republicans targeted the food stamp program is that it has grown dramatically over the decade, especially after the recession hit in 2008.

The  program served 17 million people, at a cost of about $15 billion, in 2001. Last year there were 46 million Americans enrolled in SNAP at a cost of about $75 billion.

 

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