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House Republicans Vote to Cut $40 Billion from Food Stamps Program

House Republicans voted last night to cut $4 billion annually from SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, for the next ten years - totaling a $40 billion loss for the program. SNAP, also known as "food stamps," is currently in use by over 47 million Americans who cannot make ends meet. The legislation passed 217-210, mostly along party lines.

The House bill requires able-bodied adults between 18 and 50 to find a job or enroll in work-training in order to receive benefits if they do not support children, and gives them 90 days to do so before losing their eligibility. Under the legislation, states are also permitted to require 20 hours of work activities every week from any able-bodied adult with a child over the age of one (if they have childcare in place) and for all parents who children are over six and enrolled in school. The bill also requires recipients to undergo drug testing and restricts people enrolled in other social programs from being eligible for SNAP. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that three million recipients would be cut from the program each year with the new restrictions in place. Four to six million people would be cut when the legislation first took effect.

The legislation has little chance of making it through the Senate, with Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) calling it "a monumental waste of time" and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calling it "hateful, punitive legislation." Reid said "the Senate will never pass" such a measure. The bill also faces a veto threat from President Obama, and a White House statement on the bill discredited it for targeting "Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, including working families with children, senior citizens, veterans, and adults who are still looking for work."

Despite data that shows SNAP recipients continuing, at large, to work after enrollment, conservative lawmakers utilized a message of dependency and laziness to promote the legislation. "This bill makes getting Americans back to work a priority again," said House Speaker John Boehner. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said the bill would "put people on the path to self-sufficiency and independence." Representative Stephen Fincher (R-TN) added, "the one who is unwilling to work shall not eat."

Persons are eligible for SNAP if they earn up to 3% more than the federal poverty level each year, or $11,490 for a single adult. Single adult recipients of SNAP receive $5.10 a day for food on average. Enrollment in SNAP has doubled since the Great Recession, leading 1 in 7 Americans to currently rely on the program. The US Department of Agriculture reported in September that 14.5 percent of households were "food insecure" in 2012, an increase from 11.1% of households prior to the recession. 22% of children or more live in food insecure households, and the typical family that qualifies is a working mother with two young children. An editorial by the LA Times Editorial Board attacked the lawmakers who supported the legislation for "punish[ing] those who simply can't find jobs at a time when there are three applicants for every opening."

"It's a sad day in the people's House when the leadership brings to the floor one of the most heartless bills I have ever seen," said Representative James McGovern (D-MA). "It's terrible policy."

Media Resources: New York Times 9/8/2013, 9/19/2013; LA Times 9/19/2013; CBS News 9/19/2013; AP Newswire 9/20/2013; Feminist Newswire 9/10/2013

© Feminist Majority Foundation, publisher of Ms. magazine

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