On July 11 the House Agriculture Committee voted 35-11 to pass its five-year bill to reauthorize agriculture and nutrition programs (H.R. 6083). The bill contains a $16.5 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). The cut to SNAP would result in two to three million people being denied SNAP benefits, with another 500,000 SNAP participating households losing $90 a month in benefits, and 280,000 school-age children no longer eligible for free school meals. According to the Center for American Progress the SNAP cuts would eliminate 19,000 jobs and deprive low-income Americans of nearly 1 billion meals in 2014. During committee consideration numerous amendments were offered both to restore SNAP funding, to slash it even further, and to make other changes in nutrition programs.
Advocates worked hard to garner support for an amendment offered by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) to reverse the $16.5 billion cut to SNAP. All Republicans and five Democrats rejected the amendment 15-31. The committee also rejected an amendment to double the size of the SNAP cut to $33 billion offered by Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), defeating it 13-33. An amendment sponsored by Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) to reduce the SNAP cut to $4.5 billion, the same level as passed earlier by the Senate, failed 15-28. See details of the Senate bill in the July 9 Human Needs Report.
Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) offered an amendment to require states to use the SAVE [Systematic Alien Verification for Eligibility] program to determine whether applicants’ citizenship status makes them ineligible for SNAP. Currently, states have the option to use the SAVE program. The Committee approved the amendment by voice vote. This measure will not change eligibility law nor is it expected to put undue burdens on applicants. Advocates were relieved when Rep. Roby, at the urging of Committee leadership, withdrew an amendment that would prevent millions of low-income U.S. citizen children from participating in the SNAP program. It would require that all members of the household provide proof of citizenship or immigration status, even if they are not seeking benefits for themselves. In families with different statuses, this would prevent even eligible individuals from applying for much-needed nutrition assistance. Currently, states may not deny SNAP to eligible individuals based on the status of other family members who are not seeking services. In addition to denying SNAP benefits to mixed status families, this amendment would impose onerous documentation requirements on all applicants.
Other amendments adopted by voice vote in the Committee include one sponsored by Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) and Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) that cuts $5 million in SNAP funding for program outreach advertising and reinvests it in The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). SNAP outreach helps enroll eligible families in need of SNAP assistance, decreasing pressure on food banks. TEFAP distributes commodity foods made available by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to food banks. Advocates who support both programs object to increasing TEFAP at the expense of SNAP. An amendment by Rep. Tim Johnson (R-IL) that takes $50 million from the $100 million increase in Community Food Project to incentivize the use of SNAP benefits to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets was approved. Rep. Chellie Pingree’s (D-ME) amendment that allows SNAP participants to use their benefits to pay in advance for food provided through a Community Supported Agriculture program was also adopted.
After the Committee passed H.R. 6083, Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack released a statement which in part says, “Unfortunately, the bill produced by the House Agriculture Committee contains deep cuts in SNAP, including a provision that will deny much-needed food assistance to 3 million Americans, mostly low-income working families with children as well as seniors. The proposed cuts will deny 280,000 children in low-income families’ access to school meals and reduce farm income across rural America. These cuts wouldn’t just leave Americans hungry – they would stunt economic growth.”
The Senate passed its bill, S. 3240, on June 20. It contains a smaller $4.5 billion cut to SNAP and overall savings of $23 billion compared to $35 billion in the House bill. Chances for floor action in the House may have increased because of bi-partisan support for the Committee bill. However, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has not yet scheduled floor time for the bill, and could face opposition from within his own caucus, particularly among the tea party members. Many Democrats will not support the bill because of the deep cuts to SNAP. The current agriculture legislation expires on September 30. If Congress is unable to agree on a way forward before then, it will have to pass at least a temporary extension of current law, which provides for annual spending of about $20 billion on commodity and crop insurance subsidies and $80 billion on SNAP.