Sunday, October 30, 2005
Food Stamps: Repugnican ax-swinging
House panel votes $844 mln cut in food stamps
By Charles AbbottFri Oct 28, 5:17 PM ET
On a party-line vote, a Republican-run U.S. House of Representatives committee voted to cut food stamps by $844 million on Friday, just hours after a new government report showed more Americans are struggling to put food on the table.
About 300,000 Americans would lose benefits due to tighter eligibility rules for food stamps, the major U.S. antihunger program, under the House plan. The cuts would be part of $3.7 billion pared from Agriculture Department programs over five years as part of government-wide spending reductions.
Agriculture Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte defended the decision, saying only a sliver of food stamp spending was affected and, for the most part, the cuts would eliminate people not truly eligible.
"This is not a giveaway program that results in windfall profits," said North Carolina Democrat G.K. Butterfield in opposing the cuts. "That is not moral. That is not American."
Antihunger activists said hunger rates were up for the fifth year in a row, so the cuts were a mistake.
"It is hard to imagine any congressional action that is more detached from reality," said James Weill of the Food Research and Action Center.
"Cutting food stamps now is a scandal," said David Beckman of Bread for the World, pointing to losses from hurricanes.
Approved 25-20, the committee package now will become part of an omnibus budget-cutting bill.
The House plan would also cut U.S. crop supports by $1 billion, land stewardship by $760 million, research by $620 million and rural development by $446 million.
The Senate's budget reduction plan would not touch food stamps, but would cut $3 billion from other USDA programs.
On food stamps, the House committee agreed to require immigrants to wait seven years, instead of the current five, to apply for aid. That would affect an estimated 70,000 people.
It also would deny food stamps to people who automatically get food stamps because they receive help through other welfare programs but whose income is above food stamp levels. About 225,000 people fall in that category.
North Dakota Democrat Earl Pomeroy complained that 40,000 children would lose free meals at school because of that provision.
"You have not even come clean that kids are going to lose school breakfast and school lunch under this," he said.
Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, said states unfairly "have taken the opportunity to expand food stamp eligibility" beyond what the federal government intended. Democrat John Barrow of Georgia said Goodlatte was punishing states for using welfare reform laws to respond to local needs.
A new Agriculture Department report found 38.2 million Americans "were food insecure" in 2004, an increase of nearly 2 million from the previous year. Tufts University food economist Parke Wilde food insecurity "now equals the worst levels" since recordkeeping began a decade ago.
USDA said 11.9 percent of households, "at some time during the year, had difficulty providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources."
Food stamps help poor Americans buy food. About 25 million people get food stamps monthly.
The USDA had an overall budget of about $85 billion in fiscal 2005. Food stamps and other nutrition programs for the poor accounted for about $51 billion, with the remainder going to crop subsidies for farmers, food aid to foreign countries, farmland conservation, meat plant inspections and other farm-related programs.
Copyright © 2005 Reuters Limited.