Food Stamp battle now moves to the House after Senate cuts

The battle this summer to renew a trillion-dollar farm bill to cover the next decade of spending is expected to divide the House along party lines as Democrats fight to continue funding 43 million Americans on food stamps while Republicans insist on reforms to reduce spending.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is one of the nation’s largest federal welfare programs, second only to Medicaid, with an estimated cost of $800 billion over the next 10 years.

But House Republicans have already shown their willingness to cut even farther when they passed the budget earlier this year, approving cuts of $13 billion a year in food stamps.

The Senate finished its work on the massive farm bill June 21 on a final vote of 64-35 that included a cut of $4.5 billion in the food stamp program.

Democrats and a handful of Republicans beat back efforts by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to prohibit states from waiving eligibility requirements and to eliminate bonuses to states that he says deliberately swells the rolls. Sessions said in a statement his legislation would have saved $11 billion over 10 years.

“It is stunning that the Democrat majority—at a time when we are borrowing 40 cents of every dollar we spend—would object to providing even this small degree of financial accountability,” Sessions said. “Those administering the program seem determined to place the largest number of people possible on welfare support. Is not a better goal to see how many Americans we can help achieve financial independence?”

The number of Americans on food stamps has quadrupled since 2001 when more than 17 million collected the benefits, and is now received by nearly 45 million people. In 2003 the food stamp program consumed 64 percent of the entire farm bill, this year it is expected to total nearly 80 percent.

Additionally, there are 17 nutrition programs that overlap with nearly 60 federal welfare programs.

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said he expects his panel to pass the House version out of his committee after the July 4th recess, and expects the House version to differ with what the Senate passed, including $14 billion in food stamp cuts.

“Although there will be differences between the Senate approach and our own, I hope my colleagues are encouraged by this success when we meet on the 11th to consider our own legislation,” Lucas said. “The House Agriculture Committee will consider a balanced proposal that saves taxpayers billions of dollars, recognizes the diversity of American agriculture, respects the risks producers face, and preserves the tools necessary for food production.”

The Senate achieved some savings in food stamp costs by banning lottery winners from the program. And, a Democratic amendment authored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) that would have overturned the food stamp cuts was defeated 33 yeas to 66 nays.

House Republicans are expected to target fraud and abuse in the program, which costs taxpayers an estimated $750 million a year. That’s according to the Agriculture Department, which says there is fraud in about one percent of the total funds allocated. Overall, Republicans hope to cut a total of $33 billion from the farm bill over the next decade.

An effort by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) to prohibit assistance to North Korea under the Food for Peace Act was rejected on a 43-56 vote.

An amendment by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also failed on a 45-54 vote to amend the National Labor Relations Act to permit employers to pay higher wages to their employees.

An amendment by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was soundly defeated on a 15-84 vote to exclude farm benefits to those making a yearly gross income of $250,000.