Congress Divided Over Federal Food-Stamp Program

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. speaks on Capitol Hill on Tuesday during the committee's hearing on the farm bill.
J. Scott Applewhite/APSenate Agriculture Committee Chair Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., speaks Tuesday during the committee's hearing on the farm bill.
By MARY CLARE JALONICK

WASHINGTON -- The House and Senate Agriculture Committees have laid groundwork this week for reducing the size of the federal food stamp program, approving farm bills that would shrink food aid and alter the way people qualify for it.

The two chambers are far apart on how much the $80 billion-a-year program should be cut, however, reflecting a deep ideological and at times emotional divide on the role of government in helping the poor.

Resolving those differences will be key to passage of the massive five-year farm bill that lawmakers are attempting to push through for the third year in a row. The far-reaching bill costs almost $100 billion annually over five years and would set policy for farm subsidies, rural programs and food aid.


Legislation approved by the House Agriculture Committee late Wednesday would cut about $2.5 billion a year -- or a little more than 3 percent -- from the food stamp program, which is used by 1 in 7 Americans. A Senate Agriculture Committee bill approved a day earlier would cut less than a fifth of that amount.

At both committee meetings, debate over the food stamp cuts was heated, with defenders of the program saying the bills would take food out of the mouths of children and the elderly. In the House, the discussion turned to the Bible.

Rep. Juan Vargas, D-Calif., quoted the book of Matthew in opposing the cuts: "When I was hungry you gave me food. When I was thirsty, you gave me drink."

In response, several Republicans talked about their Christianity and said the Bible encourages people to help each other but doesn't dictate what the federal government should do. "We should be doing this as individuals, helping the poor," said Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif.

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., offered an amendment to do away with the cuts that was rejected by the panel. "Christians, Jews, Muslims, whatever -- we're failing our brothers and sisters here," McGovern said.

In the Senate committee meeting, Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y., called votes for the program a moral statement.

Such deeply held beliefs are likely to be on display when the full Senate takes up the bill next week and in the House later this summer. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., has acknowledged he will have to appease all sides as he tries to get the bill passed, balancing calls from House conservatives to cut the program further with Senate Democrats who are reluctant to touch it.

"I expect it to come from all directions," Lucas said of the food stamp debate.

The food stamp issue tripped up the bill last year after House conservatives called for deeper cuts and House leaders never brought the bill up for consideration. This year, GOP leaders have said the full House will consider the bill this summer.

Automatic Enrollment Targeted

The House legislation would achieve the cuts partly by eliminating an eligibility category that requires automatic food stamp benefits when people sign up for certain other programs. It also would save dollars by targeting states that give people who don't have heating bills very small amounts of heating assistance so they can automatically qualify for higher food stamp benefits.

Republicans argued that the cut is small relative to the size of the program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and that people who qualify for the aid could still sign up for it; they just wouldn't be automatically enrolled.

The Senate bill saves money in the food stamp program only by targeting the heating assistance dollars.

Last year more than 47 million people used the SNAP program with the cost more than doubling since 2008. The rolls rose rapidly because of the economic downturn, rising food prices and expanded eligibility under President Barack Obama's 2009 economic stimulus law.

Republicans criticized Obama in last year's presidential campaign for his expansion of the program, and many House conservatives have refused to consider a farm bill without cuts to food stamps, which make up about 80 percent of the bill's cost.

The House bill would cut around $4 billion a year from food aid and farm spending, while the Senate bill would trim roughly $2.4 billion. Those reductions include more than $600 million in yearly savings from across-the-board cuts that took effect earlier this year.

Much of the savings in the House and Senate bills comes from eliminating annual direct payments, a subsidy frequently criticized because it isn't tied to production or crop prices. Part of that savings would go toward deficit reduction, but the rest of the money would create new programs and raise subsidies for some crops while business is booming in the agricultural sector.

The Senate bill would eliminate direct payments immediately, while the House bill would phase out payments to cotton farmers, who rely on the program, over the next two years.

Like the Senate bill, the House measure also includes concessions to Southern rice and peanut growers who also depend on direct payments. The bills would lower the threshold for rice and peanut subsidies to kick in when prices drop.

There are protections for other crops as well. Both bills would boost federally subsidized crop insurance and create a new program that covers smaller losses on planted crops before crop insurance kicks in, favoring Midwestern corn and soybean farmers, who use crop insurance most often.


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chuckpullium

We tbaggers aren't completely cruel and selfish. We want to feed the hungry, IF, they are white, speak English, vote gopper, and beg. We goppers are kind christians.

May 18 2013 at 10:23 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
msmaples28

I happen to be ones of those people on the food stamp program, I do not use drugs, and I have a car { 96 ford explorer) whicn has sat in my driveway for two years cause it has to be fixed in order to drive it. I can not afford the expense to fix it. If it wasn't for food stamps I would not be able to eat. I may be one of many who need those benefits badly. I do not have childern to feed it just me. Should I be the one to starve, I don't think so. Please before you bash the program think about the ones who do need it.

May 17 2013 at 2:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
samsrm

I think the food stamp program is a wonderful thing for people in need , I have never been on that program, but there is so much dishonesty of some people on the system, that there should be guidelines, one is when you come in to apply a drug screen should be given to see if it is being abused and random drug screens on people in the system without prior notice, should be a rule to weed out the crooks taking advantage of the system, the only ones that dont want to take the test is the ones on drugs and cheating the system, its like a drug test for work, you take it or your gone, no questions asked. The honest and law abiding person sees it as a normal task of working and just does it and keeps on working and providing for his or her family, the drug user takes offense and sees it as a way to loose a free ride, and the ride cost the same for both so why let one slide and the other pay for his mistakes, time to weed out the drugies and with that the system will save millions at the same time, if you can buy drugs you can work for the money to feed you families not , have everything given to you no questions ask.

May 17 2013 at 1:06 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
DOC

Christians at one time embraced feeding the poor, healing the sick, comforting the down and out
and healing wounded souls. Main stream Christianity now shuns these very ideas and people and advocates that the members of their churches vote for and elect candidates who support defunding these services by the government as they themselves have done.

Doc

May 17 2013 at 11:04 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to DOC's comment
rjoh959287

we the people are tired of feeding the lazy the con artists the mothers that rather have a nother Child than work In this day and age there is no call to have children that you can not afford to feed

May 17 2013 at 11:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rjoh959287's comment
BARRY AND KATHY

Don't make the child suffer for it's parents failure to or inability to provide.
I've never taken any sort of help be it food stamps or other but we need to realize that the money does not belong to what we call ''the government'' It's all paid by the people and should be given to those who need it. Those who don't need it can consider it charity and they won't miss it. Those who need it are paying for it in their taxes so they have a right to it.
I know some of you are saying these people who don't work are not paying taxes but you miss the point that ''NOTHING'' is untaxed in some manner. Be it taxes paid by companies or taxes paid by purchasers.

May 17 2013 at 1:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
oldupser

I was behind a woman shopping at a grocery store yesterday. She had few items but it took a very long time to haver her processed by the clerk, thus holding up the entire line. The reason was she did not talk English, she had chosen items not allowed or not the right brand. The clerk was unable to communicate effectively and all suffered. My feeling is she if not able to speak English shold have a relative or friend shop with her. My gut says she was here for the free or reduced costs that most pay for tho I hate to make accusations that are unfounded. I wish I could tell you the whole story but many would say I am predjiduce or racist of which I am not. I am just tired of paying for others and not being able to spend my money as I want to.

May 17 2013 at 10:10 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
rosspoling

If they would cut wording like allowing the purchase of soft drinks, energy drinks, chips, etc this would force welfare to buy only good foods cutting the junk foods being purched on food stamps. They need to do this first before they start cutting funding. The area I live in has had 3 to 4 generation of food stamps. Why

May 17 2013 at 9:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Trish

that program is seriously defective when people with EBT cards stand in line at the store, iPhone in hand, dressed to the nines and they drive a better car than most... wake up America.... some of these people are probably not even legal and rob this country on a daily basis. We're stupid to keep voting in people who support this travesty.

May 17 2013 at 8:46 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Trish's comment
RON

You are right. When you can afford ciggeretts, beer and a new tattoo you should not need food stamps from the working public.

May 17 2013 at 11:24 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
capsec250

They Could cut it probably by 40% or more just by making MANDATORY - RANDOM drug testing to get them , there are tens of thousands using them to Illeagally buy drugs , or selling them for the cash to buy their drugs . STOP that problem and you'll automatically gut the budget by at least 40% , also cut the ones that are constantly dropping kids to get more from the system ,

May 17 2013 at 1:09 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to capsec250's comment
georgettec28

They tried that in Florida. The number of those food stamp recipients testing positive for drugs was so small that the cost of the testing surpassed the cost of the food stamp distribution by a very large margin. Why do so many people assume that food stamp recipients are a bunch of lazy, do-nothing drug addicts when the evidence clearly shows that the program meets the needs for which the program was intended - children, the elderly, and the disabled.

May 17 2013 at 6:31 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to georgettec28's comment
RON

Stand at a check out line some time and you will see they eat better than most working people and drive better cars. These people are all takers and they now outnumber the makers. Welcome to Obamas socialist party.

May 17 2013 at 11:27 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down
MR weaver king

lets get some jobs already!!

May 16 2013 at 8:32 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
cittidude2

Cut? Arent people sfarving now?

May 16 2013 at 8:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply