Massive Cuts Loom for Food Stamps Program

Bill Clears House, on Its Way to Senate

The U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill Thursday that would cut federal funding for food stamps by nearly $40 billion over the course of the next decade. Part of the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act, the measure would cut aid for four million Americans, or about 8 percent of the nearly 48 million people currently receiving monthly food assistance benefits.

Known as the farm bill, the legislation historically subsidized farmers and funded SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), commonly called food stamps. House Republicans split the measure in half — one part to address agricultural policy and the other for food stamps — in July, after the House voted down an earlier version of the farm bill that initially slashed $20 billion for food assistance. The agriculture component was approved, but House Republicans as expected doubled cuts originally outlined.

Congressmember Lois Capps spoke on the House floor before Thursday’s vote, urging House members to vote no. “They don’t care if SNAP cuts come in the farm bill or as a standalone bill,” Capps said. “They care that the cuts would create a gaping hole in our country’s most basic safety net.” Further Capps explained that cuts to SNAP affect local communities; every SNAP dollar has nearly double the economic impact.

According to Capps’s press secretary Chris Meagher, in the 24th District — which encompasses all of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, and parts of Ventura County — 80 percent of households receiving monthly food stamps had one working family member in the last year, and most stamp recipients are employed but do not earn a livable wage.

Maria Gardner, deputy director for Economic Assistance for Santa Barbara County, called looming cuts “incredibly rough,” explaining that based on national numbers, it’s reasonable to expect that 3,000 Santa Barbara individuals — 10 percent of county participants — would be cut out of the program.

Currently, food stamp eligibility is set at 130 percent of the federal poverty level, meaning gross income for a family of three would need to be just under $2,000 a month to qualify. Gardner added that that 130 percent figure is somewhat deceiving because double the poverty level is generally considered low income.

Gardner said the House bill first cuts off assistance to unemployed childless adults, which includes veterans. The problem, she added, is that jobs are scarce even though there’s a “notion that everything is improving, so we should cut back [on welfare].

“If there were jobs to be had, [the unemployed] would have them,” Gardner added. The Santa Barbara Foodbank — which works with hundreds of local programs in the county to distribute more than 8.5 million meals — has already stepped up when food stamp benefits were inadequate.

Food stamp recipients nationwide will see reductions in their benefits beginning November 1, as the government’s 2009 stimulus package is scheduled to sunset. This new legislation would completely cut people off the program.

The bill still has to get past the Senate and, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the cuts outlined in the House bill are about 10 times greater than those in the Democrat-controlled Senate’s bill. The decision between the two houses as to which version will end up on the president’s desk is set to occur in the upcoming weeks.


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