Congressional leaders and anti-hunger advocates expressed outrage over a U.S. House committee’s passage of a bill which includes a $21 billion slash in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the nation’s largest nutrition assistance program.
The bill, formally known as the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013, passed out of committee by a vote of 36-10 on May 15. A day before, the Senate passed its version of the farm bill, including $4 billion in cuts to SNAP, by a vote of 15-5.
“A vote for this level of cuts is shameless,” David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, said in a statement. “Millions of people will lose food assistance and hundreds of thousands of households will see their benefits cut dramatically at a time when families across the country are struggling with long-term unemployment or reduced wages. Hungry and poor people do not deserve to bear the brunt of our deficit-reduction efforts.”
Supporters of the bill say the cuts in SNAP, better known as the food stamp program, reflect savings from the elimination of errors and fraud—the first reform of the program since the Welfare Reform Act of 1996.
“I am proud of the Committee's effort to advance a farm bill with significant savings and reforms,” Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said in a statement. “We achieve nearly $40 billion in savings by eliminating outdated government programs and reforming others. No other committee in Congress is voluntarily cutting money, in a bipartisan way, from its jurisdiction to reduce the size and scope of the federal government.”
But detractors said SNAP has the lowest error rate among federal programs, and the budget cuts penalizes those who need the government’s help the most.
On May 14, Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, a Democrat, urged his colleagues to consider the moral implications of allowing so many Americans to go hungry.
The farm bill includes $20 billion in SNAP cuts “at a time when we have 50 million hungry Americans. At a time when we have 17 million hungry kids,” McGovern said. “We were elected to solve problems and help people; not make things worse. We were elected to help make lives better. We were elected to do the right thing. Cutting SNAP – making it harder for hungry Americans to put food on their tables – is the wrong thing.”
The proposed measure would remove 2 million SNAP recipients from the program, reduce SNAP benefits by about $90 each month for 850,000 households, end free school meals for 210,000 children and cut international food aid by $2.5 billion over five years, the lawmaker said. Those measure are in addition to a $25 per month cut that every SNAP recipient will see this fall when the increase from the Recovery Act ends. During the bill’s markup on May 15, McGovern offered an amendment to restore the cuts which failed by a roll call vote of 17-27.
The decision undermines the first line of defense against hunger and will impede the work of charitable and faith-based organizations such as Bread for the World, Catholic Charities USA, Feeding America and United Way Worldwide in feeding the hungry, especially with food demands going up and charitable giving on the decline, advocates said.
Feeding America estimates that these cuts would amount to over 8 billion lost meals for struggling families.
“If divided evenly across Feeding America's national network of food banks, every food bank would have to provide an additional 4 million meals each year for the next 10 years, and that is just not possible,” Bob Aiken, president and CEO of Feeding America, said in a statement. “There is no way that charity would be able to make up the difference. We are already stretched thin meeting sustained high need, and we simply do not have the resources to prevent hunger in all of the families who would be impacted by these cuts.”
The groups say they will continue to lobby lawmakers to reverse course and restore SNAP’s funds as the bill moves to the House floor. And several lawmakers have vowed to do the same.
“We must stand for the most vulnerable in our country,” McGovern said in his floor speech. “And we must End Hunger Now – not make it worse.”