By Tom Wright-Piersanti
The House of Representatives voted today to reject a farm bill that would slash funding to the federal food stamp program, a critical lifeline for one in 10 New Jersey residents.
The farm bill, modified and renewed by Congress every five years, would have cost $940 billion over the next 10 years and is responsible for funding most federal farm and food policies. One of its key components is the program that replaced food stamps -- the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
"The thought alone of cutting SNAP by twenty billion dollars is completely unconscionable, and I am pleased that the proposed cuts to SNAP were defeated today," said Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-N.J.) "In the best nation on Earth, it is astonishing that millions of people, many of whom are children, still go hungry."
A cluster of amendments to the bill were passed by the House Wednesday and today, likely losing some support for the bill. Among those were an amendment to require drug tests for food stamp recipients, as well as one that would allow states to impose work requirements for SNAP participants.
Many Republicans also opposed the continuation of extensive farm subsidies, the Associated Press reported.
This version of the farm bill was set to cut SNAP by $20.5 billion and remove nearly 2 million people who were eligible from the program. About 200,000 children would have been automatically removed from the associated free school lunch program as a result.
"I will vote for no bill that cuts $20.5 billion from the SNAP program," Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) said on the floor today.
Seventy-six percent of SNAP households include a child, elderly or disabled person, Brown said.
More than 860,000 people in New Jersey receive SNAP benefits, which is more than double its enrollment five years ago, since the recession hit. Of these SNAP recipients, 45 percent are children, 20 percent are elderly, and 10 percent are disabled, Payne said.
"Preserving the SNAP program is not only the right thing to do, but it is the best thing to do for our economy since economists agree that maintaining funding for the SNAP program is the best way to boost growth in a weak economy," Payne said. "Without this funding, not only will families suffer, but our local economies in New Jersey will suffer, too."
According to Moody's Analytics, every dollar increase in SNAP generates $1.70 in economic activity.
But some politicians on the right view the growth of SNAP as a problem: The program has doubled in cost over the last five years to almost $80 billion a year, and now helps to feed 1 in 7 Americans, according to the Associated Press, leading some Republicans to say the cuts were not enough.
Kansas Republican Tim Huelskamp argued that spending for the nutritional portion of the bill has grown out of control, from $270 billion in 2002 to $733 billion in 2013.
"Only in Washington could you say that going from $270 billion to $733 billion is a cut," Huelskamp said.
The Senate passed its version of the farm bill last week, opting to cut $400 million annually from SNAP, or a fifth of the House's proposed cuts.
An amendment from Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) to offset the SNAP cuts onto farm subsidies fell largely along party lines and was defeated.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said this version of the farm bill is necessary and that it has some of the biggest reforms in decades, the AP reported. It would eliminate $5 billion a year in subsidies that are given to farmers whether they grow crops or not, and would also expand crop insurance and make it easier for rice and peanut farmers to collect subsidies.