House approves bill to cut nearly $40 billion from SNAP

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 2013 - The House approved Thursday a three-year nutrition bill (H.R. 3102), with a partisan 217-210 vote, that aims to cut about $40 billion over 10 years for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and provide various reforms to the program.

All 217 votes in support of the bill were cast by Republican lawmakers. Fifteen Republicans joined 195 Democrats in opposing the bill. Five Democrats and one Republican did not vote.

To review the roll call vote, click here.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and other Republican lawmakers said the bill would make “common-sense” reforms to the SNAP program largely by encouraging work and ferreting out fraud and abuse.

“SNAP serves an important purpose to help Americans who are struggling, so it is equally important that we ensure the program is working in the most effective and efficient way,” Lucas said.

House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said the bill includes “reasonable changes” to address the “growing and growing and growing” amount of SNAP recipients.

“There are still jobs available in America,” Sessions said. “They may not be ones you want to stay in your whole life.”

House Democrats railed against the bill, saying it targets the nation's most vulnerable population - the children and the elderly. They claim that nearly 4 million low-income people, including 170,000 veterans, would lose their SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps.

“Has our moral compass fallen so low?” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md. “We're the richest nation in the world. There is no reason why Americans should go hungry.”

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said the bill will go nowhere in the Senate.

“All this bill will do is make our job harder, if not impossible to pass a five-year farm bill,” Peterson said.

Notably, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., who previously has voted against $20 billion in SNAP cuts, voted for the bill. And Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich, who has long held out for significant reforms in both SNAP and crop insurance, also supported the bill.

“It's time to reign this in,” Huelskamp said. “You can no longer sit on the couch and expect to keep [SNAP benefits].

The “Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act” include a plan to eliminate “categorical eligibility,” which allows families that receive a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) brochure or referral to an “800” number to automatically be eligible for SNAP benefits.

The bill also seeks to eliminate the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) “loophole” that critics say allows states to “game the system” by securing more federal taxpayer dollars by sending token LIHEAP checks-some as low as $5-to increase SNAP benefits.

Another provision in the bill would eliminate state bonuses for signing up people for SNAP each year at a savings of $480 million.

Other provisions in the bill include:

  • Allowing states to pursue retailer fraud through a pilot investigation program and deters retailers most likely to engage in benefit trafficking by requiring them to stock three of the four major food groups to qualify as vendors.
  • Prohibiting USDA from advertising SNAP on television, radio, billboards and through agreements with foreign governments.
  • Ensuring illegal immigrants, lottery winners, traditional college students, and the deceased do not receive SNAP benefits.
  • Allowing states to conduct pilot projects that adopt TANF work requirements for able-bodied adults to remain eligible for SNAP benefits, with the exception of those with a disability or with sole responsibility of a child under the age of one, or under age six if no child care is available.
  • Allowing states to conduct drug testing on SNAP applicants as a condition for receiving benefits.
  • Ending eligibility for SNAP for convicted violent rapists, pedophiles and murderers.
  • Removing the ability for states to get waivers for the work requirement for able-bodied adults without dependents.
  • Allowing states that adopt TANF work requirements in SNAP to receive the 50 percent match for employment and training activities.

Many of these provisions were included in the House's first failed attempt to pass a farm bill this year, and many Democratic lawmakers blamed the proposed cuts and various changes for the failure. That bill's defeat led leadership to separate the nutrition title.

The current plan is to couple this three-year nutrition bill with the House's five-year “farm-only” farm bill and send it to conference with the Senate-passed five-year farm bill, which includes $12 billion in SNAP cuts.

House passage of the bill, of course, was not welcomed by Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

“We have never before seen this kind of partisanship injected into a farm bill,” Stabenow said. “Not only does this House bill represent a shameful attempt to kick millions of families in need off of food assistance, it's also a monumental waste of time. The bill will never pass the Senate, and will never be signed by the president.”

The White House issued a veto threat of the legislation on Wednesday.

Agricultural groups urged the House to quickly appoint conferees.

Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, said his organization was disappointed with the vote, and that stripping nutrition programs from the farm bill was a mistake.

“[This] is also sure to make the conference process more difficult,” Johnson said. “It is time for the House to take meaningful action. House leadership must appoint conferees right away so that the stalled comprehensive 2013 farm bill can be finalized and enacted as soon as possible.”

Danny Murphy, president of the American Soybean Association, urged the House to appoint conferees as soon as possible. “This process has gone on for more than three years now, and we still have no long-term legislation in place,” Murphy said. “That is entirely too long.”

Updated 8:04 p.m., Sept. 19.

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