House Panel Set to OK Cut in Food Stamp Program - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe News Weather, Video -

House Panel Set to OK Cut in Food Stamp Program

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The House Agriculture Committee is considering a five-year farm bill that would make small cuts to the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program.

The cuts are part of massive legislation that costs almost $100 billion annually and would set policy for farm subsidies, rural programs and the food aid. The House panel started work on the legislation Wednesday, one day after the Senate Agriculture Committee approved its version.

The House bill would cut about $2.5 billion a year - or a little more than 3 percent - from the food stamp program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The legislation would achieve the cuts partly by eliminating an eligibility category that mandates automatic food stamp benefits when people sign up for certain other benefit programs.

Last year more than 47 million people used the SNAP program, or about 1 in 7 Americans, with the cost more than doubling since 2008. The rolls rose rapidly because of the economic downturn, rising food prices and expanded eligibility under President Barack Obama's 2009 economic stimulus law.

Republicans criticized Obama in last year's presidential campaign for his expansion of the program, and many House conservatives have refused to consider a farm bill without cuts to food stamps, which make up about 80 percent of the bill's cost.

The Senate approved much smaller cuts to the program, about $400 million a year. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., will have to appease all sides as he tries to push the farm bill through for the third year in a row, balancing calls from House conservatives to cut the program with Senate Democrats who are reluctant to touch it.

"I expect it to come from all directions," Lucas said last week of the food stamp debate.

The House bill would cut around $4 billion a year from food aid and farm spending, while the Senate bill would trim roughly $2.4 billion. Those reductions include more than $600 million in yearly savings from across-the-board cuts that took effect earlier this year.

Much of the savings in the House and Senate bills comes from eliminating $5 billion in annual direct payments, a subsidy frequently criticized because it isn't tied to production or crop prices. Part of that savings would go toward the deficit reduction, but the rest of the money would create new programs and raise subsidies for some crops while business is booming in the agricultural sector.

The Senate bill would eliminate direct payments immediately, while the House bill would phase out payments to cotton farmers, who rely on the program, over the next two years.

Like the Senate bill, the House measure also includes concessions to Southern rice and peanut growers who also depend on direct payments. The bills would lower the threshold for rice and peanut subsidies to kick in when prices drop.

There are protections for other crops as well. Both bills would boost federally subsidized crop insurance and create a new program that covers smaller losses on planted crops before crop insurance kicks in, favoring Midwestern corn and soybean farmers, who use crop insurance most often.

Lucas made no apologies for broadening some farm programs.

"Let's give certainty to an industry that has been a bright spot in an otherwise dismal economy," he said Wednesday as he opened the committee meeting.

The farm bill passed the Senate last year but the House declined to take it up after conservatives in that chamber objected to the cost and insisted on higher cuts to food stamps. This year, House leaders have said they plan to put the bill on the floor.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The Food Bank of Northern Nevada released this statement in response:

The Food Bank of Northern Nevada is outraged by the House Agriculture Committee's vote to slash spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by $21 billion. The Food Bank of Northern Nevada, their network of more than 130 partner agencies, and other local charities are already stretched to the breaking point trying to keep up with increased need as families in Nevada continue to feel the impact of the recession. Cuts to SNAP, or food stamps, would be devastating to the community, and organizations like the Food Bank of Northern Nevada cannot make up the difference.
 
"Make no mistake, these cuts to SNAP will take food from the refrigerators and kitchen tables of vulnerable low-income families struggling to get back on their feet in the wake of the recession. Nationally two million people will lose benefits entirely, 210,000 kids will lose access to free school meals and another 850,000 households will see their benefits cut by an average of $90 per month.
 
"These cuts come on top of across-the-board cuts for all SNAP beneficiaries beginning in November that will lower benefits by about $25 for a family of three," said Food Bank Northern Nevda president and CEO, Cherie Jamason "That may not seem like much to you or me, but for a family scraping by, it matters a lot.
 
"SNAP spending will constrict automatically as our economy recovers and people go back to work. Until then, we need to ensure that families who have fallen on hard times can still put food on the table," Jamason continued. "Pulling the rug out from under low-income families by cutting SNAP at a time when the need for food assistance has never been greater is unfair and short-sighted."
 
The Food Bank of Northern Nevada serves 97,000 each month, an increase of more than 70% since 2008, largely due to increased need in the recession. Food bank clients include households who have too much in income or assets to qualify for SNAP but who still struggle to feed their families, as well as SNAP participants whose benefits are inadequate to get them through the month. SNAP benefits average less than $1.50 per person per meal, and over 90 percent of benefits are spent by day 21 of the month, leaving many families to turn to local charities to make ends meet. SNAP is targeted at our most vulnerable: 76 percent of SNAP households include a child, elderly person, or disabled person, and 91 percent of benefits go to households with gross income gross income at or below 100 percent of the poverty line.
 
"Deficit reduction is an important national priority, but it must not be undertaken without regard to our national values and it must not come at the expense of our most vulnerable," Jamason said.  "On behalf of the Food Bank of Northern Nevada and our clients I urge Representative Amodei to oppose cuts to SNAP in the House Farm Bill and to work to restore the cuts on the House floor."

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