CHN: Child Nutrition Renewal Pushed into Lame Duck Session; House Objects to Cutting Food Stamps to Pay for It

With fears that legislation to improve child nutrition programs might not make it to final passage, pressure mounted in the House to accept the bill approved by the Senate (S. 3307).  The Senate bill, passed unanimously, provides $4.5 billion over 10 years for better child nutrition through more afterschool and summer meals, higher reimbursements to school lunch providers, improved administration of WIC and meals programs, including easier enrollment of children, and more funding for WIC program improvements.  There were plans to bring the Senate bill to the House floor before the pre-election recess, using an expedited procedure that would require a two-thirds vote.  But those plans were shelved when opposition arose over the Senate’s use of SNAP/food stamp cuts to pay for much of its child nutrition improvements.The Senate bill proposed a reduction in future SNAP benefits that would result in a family of four losing $59 a month starting in 2013.  This would hasten the cut enacted by Congress in August, which paid for funds to help states with rising Medicaid costs by starting the SNAP reduction in 2014.  The SNAP cuts would end an increase in benefits provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the economic recovery legislation.  The SNAP increase in ARRA was designed to phase out gradually, timed to coincide with increases in the regular SNAP benefit that occur automatically with inflation.  Congress was intent in avoiding a precipitous drop in SNAP benefits from one month to the next.  However, inflation has been very modest, so the gradual phase-out is taking longer than Congress anticipated.  Without making these cuts, the increased benefits would have remained in place through 2018.  By imposing the reduction, Congress is reversing its earlier pledge to avoid a sharp drop in benefits.

The Senate bill took $2.2 billion from SNAP by advancing the cut to 2013, and also took $1.3 billion from SNAP nutrition education funding, to pay for most of the child nutrition provisions.  These offsetting sources of funding were seen as acceptable to Republicans who might otherwise have stood in the way of the Senate bill’s passage.

In the House, however, enough opposition arose to further cuts in SNAP that the House leadership saw it would be impossible to get the two-thirds needed to pass the bill.  One clear sign of House concerns was an August 13 letter to the Speaker signed by 106 Representatives opposing additional SNAP cuts.  The House leadership agreed to seek other offsets and to work towards expanded access to meals programs for low-income children in final negotiations with the Senate and the Administration, in hopes a final bill can be approved during the lame duck session.

The new poverty data released by the Census Bureau in September underscored the importance of adequate SNAP benefits.  According to the Census Bureau, in 2009 SNAP aid, if counted in the official poverty measure, would have lifted 3.6 million people out of poverty.  With nearly one in four children under age 5 living in poverty, SNAP benefits are particularly important, since children not yet in school do not benefit from school meals programs.  Advocates are hoping that Congress and the Administration can agree on a means of funding much-needed child nutrition improvements that does not come at the expense of child nutrition.

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