Federal Food Stamp Program Slashed

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By C.N. Staff Writer

In a devise move against Democratic leaders, House Republicans voted to cut federal food stamp program by $40 billion dollars, even with President Barack Obama saying that he would veto the legislation.  The vote was 217 to 210 and was heavily divided among party lines. Fifteen Republicans also voted against the bill. Republicans are saying that the program needs to be cut back because it is costing the federal government $80 billion dollars a year.  Although, it was passed on the House floor, it is unlikely the Democratic-controlled Senate will pass the bill.  A Senate bill would cut around one-tenth of the amount of the House bill, or $400 million a year.

With more than 47 million Americans on food stamps, the program has outgrown its budget and exceeds $78 billion dollars per year.  Republicans wan to put work requirements in place, for people that are receiving food stamps, who don’t have kids and they also want to roll back some rules.  Many states in the past decade have made it easier for people to qualify by either raising or waving income or asset tests.  Republicans argued that work requirements target the aid to the neediest people.  Critics suggest for example, you could have $10,000 in the bank that you are saving for your kid’s college education and still qualify for food stamps if you’re not making a lot of income. Some Republicans want to roll that back saying if you have money saved you should use that money for food and things like that right now.

“This bill eliminates loopholes, ensures work requirements, and puts us on a fiscally responsible path,” said Representative Marlin Stutzman, Republican of Indiana, who led efforts to split the food stamps program from the overall farm bill.

The first food stamps were a temporary plan to help feed the hungry toward the end of the Great Depression of the 1930s. The government subsidized the cost of blue stamps that poor people used to buy food from farm surpluses.  The idea was revived in the 1960s and expanded under Johnson into a permanent program that sold food coupons to low-income people at a discount. Beginning in the 1970s, food stamps were given to the poor for free. Benefit cards began replacing paper in the 1980s, a move designed to reduce fraud and ease the embarrassment food stamp users felt at the cash register.

The program, now officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has exploded over the last 10 years, according to the Department of Agriculture.  In 2001, the program served 17 million people at a cost of just over $15 billion and by June 2013, there were 47.8 million people enrolled in the program, and annual costs were about $75 billion.  Republicans argue that the growth has been fueled by allowing states to waive eligibility requirements, allowing more people to enroll in the program than the law originally intended.  According to the Congressional Budget Office, if the bill were to pass, 3 million people to lose benefits while another 850,000 would see their benefits cut.

According to the Department of Agriculture, children and teenagers make up almost half of the population that uses food stamps and about 10% are seniors.  Further, their study finds that many households that shop with SNAP cards have someone who’s employed but qualify for help because of low earnings and the average food stamp allotment is $133 a person per month. The monthly amount a family gets depends on the household’s size, earnings and expenses, as well as changing food prices and other factors.

Conservaties blame Obama’s food stamp policies, which they believe have caused the program to spend out of control:

  • The SNAP program is an entitlement, meaning everyone who is eligible can get aid, no matter the cost to taxpayers.
  • Millions of jobs were lost in the recession that hit in 2007. Unemployment is still high, and many people who have jobs are working fewer hours or for lower pay than before, meaning more people are eligible.
  • Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus temporarily increased benefit amounts; that boost is set to expire on Nov. 1. Time limits for jobless adults without dependents are still being waived in most of the country.
  • Food stamp eligibility requirements were loosened by Congress in 2002 and 2008, before Obama became president.
  • Fluctuating food prices have driven up monthly benefit amounts, which are based on a low-cost diet.

Historically, the food stamp program has been part of the farm bill, a huge piece of legislation that had routinely been passed every five years, authorizing financing for the nation’s farm and nutrition programs. But in July, House leaders split the bill’s farm and nutrition sections into separate measures.  A Census Bureau report released on Tuesday found that the program had kept about four million people above the poverty level and had prevented millions more from sinking further into poverty. The census data also showed nearly 47 million people living in poverty — close to the highest level in two decades.

 

 

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