Washington — Most lawmakers are calling it a good deal, but Connecticut anti-hunger advocates say a new massive farm bill’s cuts to food stamps will leave thousands in the state hungry.
The massive bill will set farm policy and federal nutrition programs over the next five years. It would cut the food stamp program known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by more than $8 billion in a way some say will hit Northeastern states like Connecticut harder than others.
That’s because most of the savings will come from preventing governors, like Dannel Malloy, from giving thousands of people just $1 in heating assistance money so they can, under a formula that determines need, receive more food stamps.
Congress has been squabbling over the farm bill for over a year. This final bill, negotiated by Republicans in the House and Democrats in the Senate, was praised by lawmakers as a just compromise. It is expected to be approved by Congress – the House hopes to vote on the bill Wednesday — and be signed into law by President Obama.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, praised the farm bill as having the potential to “reduce the deficit and cut waste and fraud, all while protecting hungry children and families.”
But Lucy Nolan, executive director of End Hunger Connecticut!, slammed the bill, saying it would cut food stamp benefits for more than 65,000 households in Connecticut by an average of $90 a month.
“I heard Harry Reid say it isn’t going to hurt people, and it’s a great compromise, but this is going to hurt people in Connecticut. A lot of seniors will have to make the choice between heating and eating,” Nolan said. “Why does Congress have to go after poor people?”
David Dearborn, spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Social Services, said the Malloy administration is “reviewing the details, but there is no resolution yet on how we might deal with that provision of the Farm Bill.”
“Currently, we have some 68,000 SNAP-eligible households receiving food aid, thanks to the $1 LIHEAP connection,” Dearborn said.
Negotiators of the farm bill hope governors like Malloy drop all $1 recipients from the LIHEAP program. That’s the only way to will reach their targeted savings.
Nolan said if there’s a “silver lining” in the situation, it’s that Connecticut has already distributed LIHEAP funds for 2014, so the food stamp cuts would not be implemented in the state until 2015.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, a food stamp champion, took to the House floor Monday evening to condemn the farm bill for about half an hour.
She called the farm bill “reverse Robin Hood legislation,” and said planned SNAP cuts are “severe and immoral.”
“Low-income seniors, working families with children and the disabled will be hurt by the cruel cuts in this bill,” DeLauro said.
She said the proposed cuts to the SNAP program are particularly objectionable since “millionaires and billionaires keep getting crop subsidies.”
DeLauro urged her colleagues to vote against the farm bill. But only the most liberal members of Congress and the most conservative – who say the farm bill does not cut food stamps and subsidies enough – are expected to vote against it.
“I’ve always known that the folks at both ends of the spectrum would not support us,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla. “It’s the coalition of the folks in the middle who want to get things done … who will pass this bill.”
Among the “no” votes will likely be Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., who said negotiators of the farm bill “decided to target cold weather states” by changing the Low Income Heating Program (LIHEAP) rules.