Democrats split over cutting food stamp spending to pay for improving school meals

Democrats split over cutting food stamp spending to pay for improving school meals

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, Aug. 17 - Reauthorizing the federal Child Nutrition programs due to expire Sept. 30 has run into another snag: how to pay for making school meals more nutritious and more widely available.

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As it left town for the August recess, the Senate unanimously approved its nutrition bill, S. 3307, the bipartisan Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act co-sponsored by Senate Ag Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-GA). But to satisfy congressional rules requiring savings to offset any non-emergency spending increases, the Senate bill would cut spending for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, the new name for Food Stamps) to help pay for the 10-year $4.5 billion increased spending for school meals.

Since the Senate bill must be passed by the House before it can go to the President for signing, 106 House Democrats sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week objecting to any further SNAP spending cuts. The letter points out that SNAP is already being cut to offset more spending on Medicaid and teachers' salaries in H.R. 1586, the EduJobs legislation signed into law last week. The lawmakers' letter states that “we are disappointed that the Senate used SNAP, a safety-net program that literally keeps families from going hungry, to pay for programs to help provide healthcare for low income individuals and to help teachers keep their jobs.”

The letter calls on Pelosi to ignore the Senate-passed nutrition bill and instead take up the House version, H.R. 5504, the Improving Nutrition for America's Children Act. The House bill as passed by the Education & Labor Committee would add $8 billion rather than the Senate's $4.5 billion over the next 10 years - and does not yet identify offsetting savings. The Democrats' letter says that “We recognize that H.R. 5504 must be offset, and we urge you to work with [Ways & Means Committee] Chairman Levin, [Agriculture Committee] Chairman Peterson and other relevant committees during this recess to identify proper offsets.”

So when the House reconvenes Sept. 14, one of many thorny issues on the table will be whether to OK the Senate's approach of cutting food stamp spending starting Nov. 2013 to help pay for improved school meals - or find some other way to offset the extra nutrition spending. The House Democratic leadership points out that if food stamp spending is used as an offset, there should be time to find other offsets before the cuts would take effect starting Nov. 2013.

To read the Aug. 13 letter from 106 House Democrats to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to protest proposed further cuts to the SNAP food stamp program, go to:

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