GOP’s war on the poor: cut food stamps, keep farm subsidies

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

The compromise "farm bill," which provides the appropriations for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) aka food stamps, survived a vote in the Tea-Publican House today. Last year a similar bill was defeated by Tea-Publicans in the House who felt the bill was not draconian and punitive enough towards the takers poor.

The New York Times reports, House Approves Farm Bill, Ending 2-Year Impasse:

The House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill authorizing nearly $1 trillion in spending on farm subsidies and nutrition programs, setting the stage for final passage of a new five-year farm bill that has been stalled for over two years.

Negotiators from the House and Senate spent several weeks working out their differences on issues in the legislation, including cuts to food stamps, income caps on farm subsidies and a price support program for dairy farmers. The bill is expected to save about $16.6 billion over the next 10 years.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 251 to 166. The Senate is expected to take up the bill later this week.

Compared with earlier, more contentious votes on the farm bill, Wednesday’s vote was largely bipartisan. Many Democrats who had opposed it because of cuts to the food stamp program supported it on Wednesday. A number of Republicans, including many who wanted deeper cuts to the food stamps, also voted for the bill’s passage.

The House speaker, John A. Boehner, and the majority leader, Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia, had endorsed the bill and urged Republicans to support it, even though they said they would have liked to see more changes.

“This is legislation we can all be proud of because it fulfills the expectations the American people have of us,” said Representative Frank D. Lucas, Republican of Oklahoma, who led House efforts to pass the farm bill.

"Proud of," Congressman? Seriously? You shoud be ashamed.

It is unclear where the Obama administration stands on the new farm bill. Mr. Obama had signaled his opposition to any bill that cut food stamps and expanded crop insurance.

JesusFacepalm2The new farm bill, which had been mired in partisan gridlock, makes fundamental changes to both nutrition and farm programs. It cuts the food stamp program by $8 billion, and about 850,000 households will lose about $90 in monthly benefits under the change.

[This is substantially less than the $40 billion in cuts to food stamps that the House Tea-Publicans wanted, but double the amount of the $4 billion in cuts to which the Senate had previously agreed. I call this a "win" for Tea-Publican austerity designed to punish the poor for existing.]

Anti-hunger groups called the food-stamp cuts draconian. Feeding America, a coalition of food banks across the county, said the change would result in 34 lost meals per months for the affected households.

The bill does provide a $200 million increase in financing to food banks, though many said the money might not be enough to offset the expected surge in demand for food.

Farm programs were not spared from the cuts in the new bill. The most significant change to farm programs is the elimination of a subsidy known as direct payments. These payments, about $5 billion a year, are paid to farmers whether they grow crops or not and the issue had become politically toxic over the last several years as farm income has risen to record levels.

The new bill cuts this subsidy and but adds some of the money to the government-subsidized crop insurance. The government pays 62 percent of premiums for the $9 billion-a-year insurance program.

Lawmakers said the elimination of the direct payments ensures that only those who actually farm would receive subsidies and only when affected by a disaster such as drought. Budget watchdog groups called it a bait-and-switch, and said it replaced one subsidy with an even more generous one.

“This bill is so bad, they literally stripped reform from the title,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of the Washington-based Taxpayers for Common Sense.

The Christian Science Monitor adds, Food stamps: how House, Senate negotiators agreed to cut $800 million a year:

The compromise would cut $8 billion from food stamps over a decade and would do so without ousting any current enrollees from the program, committee members said. It also largely sidesteps Republican lawmakers’ demands to taper spending with tighter food stamp eligibility requirements, instead cutting funding through provisions to curb fraud.

* * *

The proposed food stamp cuts are coming at a time when more Americans are on food stamps than at almost any other time in the past decade. In fiscal year 2006, one year before the recession curdled the job market, the number of people on food stamps was about 26 million. As of July 2013, that number is 48 million.

But how to interpret the surge in food stamp participation has been split along partisan lines. Republicans have said that the expanding program is flush with participants who are not in true need, but are rather taking advantage of loopholes or poor oversight. Democrats, though, have said that the program has burgeoned with people who have not yet found their footing after the recession jolted their communities.

In the new bipartisan agreement, the cuts to food stamps are just a fifth of those outlined in the Republican-controlled House’s farm bill, passed last summer. The House’s proposed $40 billion in cuts, to occur over 10 years, had fueled outcry from Democrats and anti-hunger advocates that some 4 million people would be booted out of the program, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

The Democrat-controlled Senate’s version of the farm bill, also passed over the summer, would have shaved some $4 billion in funds from the food stamp program, ousting about 400,000 people, according to estimates from Feeding America.

Committee members said on Monday that the agreed-upon cuts to the program would save federal dollars without kicking any current recipients out of the program, largely by addressing areas of waste and fraud that some congressional members say have dogged the program for years.

Among the major cost-saving measures: closing a loophole that had allowed some states to reduce residents’ federal heating assistance benefits so they qualified for food stamps. Closing the loophole would reduce, but not entirely cut, benefits to some 850,000 households, according to CBO estimates.

The agreement also clamps down on people receiving benefits in multiple states or under a deceased person’s name, bans lottery winners or anyone who collects big gambling earnings, and prohibits the Department of Agriculture from using federal dollars to advertise the food stamp program and cull new recruits.

On the whole, the compromise dials back the strict food stamp eligibility requirements that the House had proposed in its bill. The House legislation would have required adults between 18 and 50 without dependents to be either employed or enrolled in a work-training program to collect benefits. It also would have allowed states to mandate drug testing for food stamp recipients.

But the agreement does take the food stamp program’s lifetime ban on convicted drug felons receiving benefits and extends it to include felons convicted of other, violent crimes, including murder and sexual assault – an amendment that anti-hunger advocates have called overly punitive and liable to send recidivism rates surging. The exclusion applies only to violent felons convicted after the act’s passage, so it would not throw current convicts out of the food stamp program.

The agreement also includes provisions for pilot work-eligibility programs, modeled on those outlined in the House bill, to be launched in up to 10 states.

The best that can be said about the compromise farm bill is that "it coulda been a whole lot worse" if Tea-Publicans controled more than just Congress. That is cold comfort to those who will be going hungry due to reduced food stamp benefits.

Local food banks are going to need far more contributions and financial assistance to provide for the increased demand from those whom Congress has punished out of ideological hatred for the poor.

One response to “GOP’s war on the poor: cut food stamps, keep farm subsidies

  1. Re: no food stamps for felons. Those Rs are really vindictive. I thought they were big on redemption. I guess only for their own buffoons, when they get in trouble with their big mouths.