House GOP's Attempt to Gut Food Stamps Would Gut Economy, Too

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First the good news: a farm bill passed the House of Representatives on Thursday, suggesting that -- two years after the last farm bill expired -- a replacement may be nigh. On the bright side, the House's bill could circumvent silly food crises like last year's milk scare. On the dark side, it would also pull the legs out from millions of Americans, leaving them without sufficient funds to feed themselves.

This isn't to say that the Farm Bill, which passed the house by a vote of 216 to 208, isn't generous: it's packed with about $195 billion in price supports, crop insurance, and subsidies that will largely benefit huge agribusinesses. So, in other words, the farm bill, which has been delayed for two years, is showing up late, and is packed with -- no pun intended -- a whole lot of pork.

But for poor people, the bill is a lot less generous. It doesn't contain any money for food stamps. At all.

In 2012, 46.6 million Americans took part in the food stamp program -- AKA the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP -- receiving an average of $133.14 per month. As The Atlantic's Derek Thompson reported, that's about 73 percent of the monthly food cost for the average man -- assuming that he's shopping on the USDA's "thrifty" plan.

Doesn't "thrifty" sound better than "hungry"?

This move doesn't just affect the families that rely on food stamps. After all, as the numbers above would suggest, families on food stamps aren't squirreling away their benefits. The $74.3 billion that the government currently distributes in food stamps goes back into the economy almost immediately, creating jobs in supermarkets, discount stores, fast food establishments, farms, and nearly every other industry of the country that deals with food. (This, incidentally, helps explain why a nutritional program is part of a farm bill.) In other words, by cutting $74.3 billion out of the budget, Congress is also cutting $74.3 billion out of the economy, a move that will likely have major ripples.

It isn't hard to see why many Republicans want to rein in food stamps. Between 2007 and 2011, the number of people enrolled in the program increased by 70 percent, and federal expenditures on food stamps are now the highest that they've ever been. Then again, during the same period, the unemployment rate increased by 97 percent. And, while unemployment has dropped in the last two years, the majority of the jobs that have been created have been low-wage and low-benefit -- in short, the kinds of jobs that can leave hardworking Americans struggling to put food on the table for their families.

Republican lawmakers in the House claim that they will pass a separate bill specifically allocating money for food stamps. However, given that farm bills tend to be a compromise between the farm subsidies that Republicans prefer and the nutrition benefits that Democrats champion, it's hard to imagine that Republicans will be inclined toward generosity when they get around to allocating money to SNAP.

The House's farm bill probably won't ever become law. To begin with, it's doubtful it could be reconciled with the Senate's farm bill, which guarantees food stamp funding. For that matter, President Obama has promised to veto any bill that doesn't address food aid -- and with the bill having passed by a squeaky 8-vote margin with 11 House members not voting at all, the bill's supporters have no chance of being able to find the two-thirds majority necessary to override a veto. Still, as a glimpse into the worldview -- and priorities -- of congressional Republicans, the farm bill gives a lot of food for thought.

Bruce Watson is DailyFinance's Savings editor. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.


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