On Monday June 10, the Senate passed its 5-year farm bill (S. 954) by a vote of 66-27, with 18 Republicans joining Democrats on passage. The Senate bill includes a $4.1 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over ten years. The House will attempt to pass its own bill starting the week of June 17. The bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee and now headed to the floor goes even further than the Senate-passed bill, cutting $20.5 billion from SNAP over the same ten-year period. (For more background on the farm bill, see this article from the May 29, 2013 edition of the Human Needs Report.)
S. 954’s $4.1 billion cut to SNAP –achieved by limiting states’ ability to operate the “Heat and Eat” program and the addition of administrative burdens to states – will greatly affect certain low-income families nationwide. As estimated by the Congressional Budget Office, about 500,000 households will lose $90 in SNAP benefits each month under this proposal.
Many advocates are also deeply disappointed by the inclusion of the Vitter Amendment in the Senate farm bill. The Vitter Amendment precludes convicted sex offenders and murderers from participating in the SNAP program – no matter how long ago they committed the crime and in disregard for their penance and later contributions to society. Further, the amendment will reduce or eliminate benefits for the whole household, including children, by requiring that individual’s income be counted in determining the household’s eligibility or benefit levels for SNAP, while denying the ex-offender any SNAP benefits. It requires that all SNAP applicants write a statement disclosing whether any member of their household has been convicted of one of the aforementioned crimes, which may discourage some applications. (For more, see this blog post from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ President and Founder Bob Greenstein.)
It is considered almost certain that a similar amendment will be presented when the House bill comes to the floor.
On the House side, there was doubt that there were enough votes to pass the farm bill, with some right wing members wanting even deeper SNAP cuts, and a majority of Democrats opposing the harsh cuts already in the House Agriculture Committee’s bill (H.R. 1947). However, the announcement that Speaker Boehner (R-OH) planned to vote for the measure signaled pressure by the House leadership to win enough votes for passage, and floor action in the House is now expected to begin on Wednesday, June 19, with a final vote possible the next day.The House Rules Committee will determine the amendments to be debated on the House floor. One or more amendments are expected to make the SNAP cuts larger, such as increasing the reduction to $33 billion, as proposed in the House-passed Budget Resolution. Speaker Boehner, although supporting the bill, has expressed opposition to its dairy provisions; amendments to alter these may also be considered.
Top House Agriculture Committee Democrat Collin Peterson (D-MN) has said that he expects 150 Republican votes for the House bill at best, while Republican Representative Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) calls this number optimistic. It may be that more Republican votes will fall into line as the House leadership presses for passage. Some Democratic votes are likely to be needed for passage, and they may be forthcoming, despite the harsh SNAP cuts. Ranking Agriculture Committee Member Peterson supported H.R. 1947 in Committee and was joined by 12 other Committee Democrats in voting for the bill (8 Democrats voted no). However, many Democrats oppose the SNAP cuts in the bill, and more might join the opposition if amendments succeed in making the cuts worse.
Nutrition advocacy groups such as the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) strongly oppose the short- and long-term effects of the $20.5 billion cut, which would deny SNAP to around 2 million people currently eligible and take free school meals away from over 200,000 low-income children. (Read more about these cuts in a statement from FRAC.)
House Republicans are determined not to let the bill die on the floor, especially after last year’s humiliating stalemate which forced Congress to pass a temporary extension of the farm bill, delaying the House debate until this year. Anti-hunger advocates will press their opposition to the bill, preferring its failure in the House as long as it includes large SNAP cuts.