House Bill Would Leave Millions Hungry

PHOTO: A woman shops for groceries in the GrowNYC Greenmarket in Union Square using  Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT), more commonly known as Food Stamps,on September 18, 2013 in New York City.

Andrew Burton/Getty Images

House Republicans just passed a bill that, if it became law, would inflict some of the most draconian cuts in recent memory on the food stamp program.

The program is typically considered as part of the farm bill, which gives subsidies to, you guessed it, farms, and to the nation’s 47 million poor people who cannot afford enough food. The bill is up for renewal every five years and usually passes without much incident.

But conservative members of the House of Representatives thrust it into the spotlight this year when they split it in two -- one for farm subsidies, one for food stamps -- and voted to cut around $40 billion from the food stamp budget, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, over the next decade. The whole program costs about $80 billion per year.

They say the program isn’t regulated enough, has ballooned in size and encourages people to be lazy.

In reality, it provides very small stipends -- less than $5 a day -- to very hungry people. And the cost has risen because there are more people out of work or struggling to get by than there were before the economic downturn. According to the Congressional Budget Office, though, the number is likely to decline by nearly a third in the next decade as more people are able to get back to work.

According to Census figures released this week, more than one in five children lived in poverty in 2012 and some who qualify for free school lunches would no longer receive them because of the cuts.

It’s an especially interesting move because Republicans passed billions of dollars in farm subsidies, which benefit wealthier Americans, in July

The food stamp bill, which passed Thursday primarily along party lines, has faced a veto threat from the president.

It asks adults up to age 50 who don’t have children to find a job or enroll in work-training programs to get the assistance, limits the time someone can get the stamps to three months and restricts automatic eligibility. The bill also establishes drug testing for recipients.

The Congressional Budget Office says the bill could cut benefits to nearly four million people next year who rely on the program, and another three million per year after that.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) lambasted Republican supporters of the bill for accepting large food stipends, more than $100 per day for trips abroad. Holding a bottle of vodka, a steak and a jar of caviar as props, she criticized one lawmaker for spending on food and housing in a six-day trip abroad what food stamp recipients spend on food in close to a year.

The bill is garnering some pushback from prominent Republicans, too.

“In the modern era, funding for this vital program has been extended as part of the farm bill with relatively little partisan bickering — until now,” former Senate majority leaders Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) wrote in an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times. “By stripping the nutrition title from the legislation this year, the House has severed the vital tie that helps connect our food system with those who struggle with hunger in our own backyard.”

The bill’s passage sets up a bitter fight with the Senate, who passed their own farm bill in June, before most of the farm subsidies expire at the end of the year. The Senate bill includes more modest cuts to the food stamp program.

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