House Ag Committee recommends cuts to SNAP to meet budget reconciliation

By Stewart Doan

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, April 16 - The House Agriculture Committee's GOP majority will recommend that budget reconciliation cuts required by the House Budget Resolution be met entirely by reforms, elimination of loopholes and the reduction of waste, fraud and abuse in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the food stamp program.


Reconciliation instructions for the House Agriculture Committee require lawmakers to make policy changes that result in 1, 5, and 10 year savings estimates of $7.7 billion, $19.7 billion, and $33.2 billion, respectively. While the GOP majority is expected to win approval for the cuts on a strait party-line vote in committee and on the House floor, the exercise is expected to result in no short-term changes to the food stamp program. That's because the House recommendations are not expected to even be considered in the Senate.

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But some Democrats are adamantly opposed to any cuts - real or perceived - in the food stamp program and are likely to make their criticisms known when the full committee considers the recommendations during a business meeting on Wednesday morning.


Republicans will likely point out that Democrats used some of the same budget manuevers when they were in power and will make their case that food stamps are not only the largest portion of the farm bill but the one that has shown the most growth.  


For example, the committee hopes to save almost $6 billion over 10 years by putting an earlier stop on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that included an across-the-board increase in food stamp benefits in April 2009. Rather than relying on annual food-price indexing to increase SNAP benefits, the ARRA effectively replaced the actual food price increase until FY 2018.


The increased SNAP benefits were used twice by the Democratic majority last Congress to offset other laws, according to GOP sources. Democrats achieved their savings by moving up the ARRA termination date to October 31, 2013. This GOP-sponsored-provision terminates the ARRA increase on July 1, 2012.


Another provision closes a loophole in SNAP relative to how Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) payments interact with SNAP benefit calculation. The committee can claim savings of  over $14 billion over 10 years in the process.


Here's why: Approximately 16 states and Washington, DC are sending $1 or $5 LIHEAP checks to low-income households so they may automatically take advantage of the SNAP Standard Utility Allowance (SUA).


However, in practice, if a participant receives $1 in LIHEAP, they can automatically deduct the SUA from their income, so their net income goes down and they receive more SNAP benefits. Changing the law so that a LIHEAP payment no longer automatically triggers the SUA deduction would close this loophole.


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