Wednesday, July 10, 2013

GOP Push To Split Farm Bill Leaves Food Stamps Vulnerable To Severe Cuts

A House Republican scheme to strip food stamp funding out of the farm bill would lead to the program being weakened or even outright dismantled, according to poverty experts. Reports indicate that GOP leaders are having trouble finding the votes to support a split farm bill so far, but the tens of millions of Americans who rely on food stamps would be at risk should the political winds shift.

“Splitting the farm bill is the wrong approach,” according to Dottie Rosenbaum, a Senior Policy Analyst specializing in food assistance at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “It would not only end the long-standing, bipartisan practice of bringing together supporters of agriculture and food assistance programs to produce more sound policy,” she told ThinkProgress, “but it has the potential to force cuts to food assistance even deeper and more harmful than those already rejected by the House.”

Those cuts – $20.5 billion over a decade, largely from changes to eligibility rules that would kick 2 million poor Americans off the food aid rolls – meant the House’s original farm bill faced a narrow path to passage. Many Democrats were reportedly ready to hold their noses on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) cuts and support the full package. But Republican leaders killed the bill by endorsing a last-minute amendment they knew Democrats couldn’t tolerate. After the bill failed, with dozens of Republicans who’d voted for the amendment that chased Democrats away still opposing the final vote, House leaders opted not to return to a version of the bill that could pass. Instead, they began exploring splitting the bill up.

“Splitting the Farm Bill is an act of political gamesmanship that leaves SNAP vulnerable to attack or outright neglect from Congress,” said Joy Moses, Senior Policy Analyst for the Center for American Progress’ Poverty and Prosperity Program. An action alert sent Tuesday night from the Food Research and Action Center, the national anti-hunger advocacy group that sponsors the “SNAP Challenge,” agreed that the plan “seems to be one more attempt to harm SNAP.”

Moses added that while “we recognize that the needs of food insecure Americans should stand alone in being critically important, the blending together of multiple interests has led to positive outcomes in the past.” Indeed, the decades-long linkage of the farm bill’s anti-poverty components and agricultural subsidy programs has helped protect SNAP from some of the “reform” efforts that have damaged other anti-poverty programs. The amendment that killed the bill in June was designed to replicate some of those failed reforms in the SNAP program. If food assistance is sliced out of the legislation, it would become even more vulnerable to such ill-advised changes.

Conservatives say SNAP is a troubled program in need of some tough love. But in fact it has one of the lowest fraud rates of any federal program, despite being among the largest. The agricultural subsidies component of the farm bill actually has a higher rate of erroneous payments than does SNAP. Furthermore, the vast majority of food stamp recipients who are able to work do so.

The program kept 4.7 million families out of poverty in 2011 alone, thereby juicing economic growth for the nation as a whole. The food charities conservatives expect to pick up the slack from food stamp cuts say they lack the resources to do so.

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