House Republicans propose $40 billion in cuts to food stamps
Senate and House forced to reconcile cuts to low-income residents
House Republicans approved nearly $40 billion in cuts to the food-stamps program last Thursday evening in a tight 217-210 vote. Fifteen Republicans defected to vote no on the measure, which is projected to kick millions of people off of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates Thursday’s cuts will bump at least 4 million—and up to 6 million—people out of the program, and even the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates 3.8 million would lose benefits next year with an additional 2.8 million losing them each year on average over the decade.
Here in Sacramento, cuts to food stamps could impact more than 250,000 individuals.
The Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act passed Thursday seeks to pare back food-stamp participation by changing eligibility requirements in a few different ways. In addition to adding work requirements modeled on the reforms that helped cripple the efficacy of welfare, the Republican bill ends something called “categorical eligibility,” whereby people enrolled in other low-income safety-net benefits can skip much of the bureaucracy and paperwork involved in applying for food stamps.
Proponents say categorical eligibility reduces administrative costs in the program, but Republicans argue that it makes federal anti-hunger spending too generous.
The food-stamps program provides $133 per month in assistance on average and is already scheduled for a significant cut in November as a federal-stimulus provision expires.
Constraining eligibility for CalFresh in Sacramento will mean some hungry people get hungrier: Nearly half of the country’s 50 million individuals who suffer from hunger have pretax incomes high enough to make them ineligible for SNAP without categorical eligibility, according to Feeding America, and nearly a third earn more than 185 percent of the federal poverty level income.
The House cuts amount to about 5 percent of the projected 10-year cost of SNAP, which currently serves one in seven Americans as the jobs crisis brought on by the financial crisis continues.
Enrollment in SNAP tracks with the health of the economy, as safety-net programs are designed to do, but Republicans have repeatedly insisted that there is something untoward about the rapid expansion of the food-stamp rolls in the worst economy the country has seen in about eight decades.
SNAP is one of the three most effective anti-poverty programs the government has, keeping 4 million people out of poverty last year alone. The cuts Republicans propose are likely to create greater costs down the road than what they save the government in the near term.
The House and Senate must now reconcile their positions on food-stamp cuts, which the top agricultural policymaker in the Senate has warned will be very difficult on the shortened timeline House leaders have created by waiting until mid-September to act on food assistance. (The House passed the portion that relates more directly to agriculture in July.)
The Senate’s farm bill included a $4 billion cut to SNAP, meaning that cuts in some amount are likely should the two chambers manage to strike a deal.
The House bill includes both a more extreme version of the Senate’s changes to the application process for food stamps and work requirements provisions that doomed the original House farm bill last time.
Prior to this summer, nutrition programs had always been wrapped up with agricultural programs in the farm bill. House leaders effectively doomed the decades-long marriage of agriculture and nutrition policy in June, however, when they endorsed an amendment attaching work requirements to SNAP. The amendment killed Democratic support and also failed to secure enough Republican votes for final passage of the farm bill.
Rather than try to recraft a farm bill that could win majority support, Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor opted to split the nutrition and agricultural portions into separate legislation.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat who chairs the Committee on Agriculture in the upper chamber, has warned that the House’s split approach to the farm bill threatens to undermine the whole of American food policy.
Conservatives argue that tighter restrictions are necessary due to fraud and waste in food stamps, but food-stamp audits routinely show that the program wastes less money and is less vulnerable to fraud than the crop insurance system those same conservatives reauthorized in July.
Currently, one in seven families—totaling 49 million people, 8 million of whom are children—face food insecurity.