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House Cuts SNAP by $40 Billion

September 19, 2013

By: Chris Clayton

OMAHA (DTN) -- The House of Representatives finally passed a bill to fund nutrition programs as part of a farm bill on Thursday through a bill that revolved around cutting $39 billion over 10 years.

The House of Representatives passed a bill to fund nutrition programs as part of a farm bill Thursday through a bill that revolved around cutting $39 billion over 10 years. (Logo courtesy of USDA)

In a narrow, 217-210 vote, House Republicans were able to pass the bill without a single Democratic vote. Fifteen Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the bill. It tightens eligibility requirements and would reduce enrollment of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by 3.8 million people. The bill tightens rules on how states can enroll people for the program, as well as add tighter requirements, particularly for able-bodied people. The bill takes away the ability of states to receive waivers from those work requirements when unemployment levels are high.

Almost instantly after passage, agricultural groups such as the National Farmers Union, National Milk Producers Federation, National Cattlemen's Beef Association and American Soybean Association issued statements calling on House leaders to name conferees.

Democrats argued the bill would make hunger worse in the country, not better. The way the provisions were structured, veterans and families with children were both at risk to lose food aid while the economy has struggled to raise incomes for lower-income Americans.

Republicans argued the bill would marry reforms for welfare in the 1990s by requiring able-bodied people without dependents to work, look for work, volunteer or take part in a job-training course. The measures in the bill that make it more difficult receive SNAP benefits and thus motivate people to find jobs.

The House is set to vote Friday on an even more contentious bill to fund the government until December, but eliminate funds for Obamacare programs. That puts the SNAP cuts effectively on the table as the Obama administration and House Republicans head into one more staring contest over government programs and the debt ceiling.

For people in agriculture, the narrow victory for House Republicans now at least ensures the House and Senate will move to conference negotiations over a new five-year farm bill. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said before the vote Thursday that he expects to name conferees "as soon as we can." Boehner said he expects the Senate to again announce that senators wish to conference.

"When they ask for a conference, we will appoint our conferees as well -- the sooner the better," Boehner said.

The Senate bill cuts less than $4 billion from SNAP over 10 years. Senate Democrats have been critical of the House SNAP cuts. That means differences over nutrition cuts will dominate conference talks.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said food aid such as SNAP is meant to provide support, but not keep people in the program. Lucas also acknowledged the SNAP bill put him in a unique position as a chairman trying to complete a farm bill.

"I will admit to you this has been an unusual process, but it remains my goal to get a five-year farm bill enacted by doing everything possible to make sure that happens this year. This is a step towards that goal," Lucas said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., took the floor as well to criticize the effects of the bill and highlight the challenges of a low-income family of four. She said everyone who votes for the measure votes to hurt their own constituents.

"We need a farm bill, we want to have a good farm bill for our farmers, for our ranchers, for our food security for our country," Pelosi said. "So hopefully we can get to that place, but not with doing violence to our children."

Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, managed the debate for Democrats. She called the bill "a waste of our time and insult to every American in need." She noted the bill keeps the toxic amendments that derailed the farm bill the first time around.

The House of Representatives passed a bill to fund nutrition programs as part of a farm bill Thursday through a bill that revolved around cutting $39 billion over 10 years. (Logo courtesy of USDA)

Rep Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said the bill would make the biggest reforms and restore integrity to the program. Arguments from Democrats were "just theatrics."

Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., said the bill would tighten loose eligibility standards being abused by states. "Throughout the Obama presidency we have seen food stamp program grow exponentially because the government continues to turn a blind eye to a system fraught with abuse."

Fudge noted Crawford's district had a SNAP enrollment rate of more than 18%. That was a common statement from Democrats to GOP members who were critical of the program's enrollment.

Lucas held colloquies with other Republicans on the floor to state that veterans would be protected from SNAP cuts and job-training programs. Democrats noted there was nothing in the bill to prevent veterans from losing benefits or require states to invest in job training programs.

"I do resent the idea that somehow asking able-bodied adults without dependent children to at least be looking for work as a requirement to receive these benefit is somehow immoral. When did America trade the dignity of a job for a culture of permanent dependency," said Rep Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who is considered the main writer of the bill, said the provisions in the bill would encourage a culture of work. He also noted anyone subjected to the work requirement would not be denied benefits if they are willing to sign up for the opportunity to work.

"The reforms made by this bill will put people on the path to self-sufficiency and independence," Cantor said.

Article Source: DTN Progressive Farmer