House votes to cut $4 billion a year from food stamps

By Mary Clare Jalonick

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House has voted to cut nearly $4 billion a year from food stamps, a 5 percent reduction to the nation’s main feeding program used by more than 1 in 7 Americans.

The 217-210 vote was a win for conservatives after Democrats united in opposition and some GOP moderates said the cut was too high.

The bill’s savings would be achieved by allowing states to put broad new work requirements in place for many food stamp recipients and to test applicants for drugs. The bill also would end government waivers that have allowed able-bodied adults without dependents to receive food stamps indefinitely.

House conservatives, led by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., have said the almost $80 billion-a-year program has become bloated. More than 47 million Americans are now on food stamps, and the program’s cost more than doubled in the last five years as the economy struggled through the Great Recession. Democrats said the rise in the rolls during tough economic times showed the program was doing its job.

Finding a compromise — and the votes — to scale back the feeding program has been difficult. The conservatives have insisted on larger cuts, Democrats opposed any cuts and some moderate Republicans from areas with high food stamp usage have been wary of efforts to slim the program.

Republican leaders emphasized that the bill targets able-bodied adults who don’t have dependents. And they say the broader work requirements in the bill are similar to the 1996 welfare law that led to a decline in people receiving that government assistance.

“This bill is designed to give people a hand when they need it most,” Cantor said on the floor just before the bill passed. “And most people don’t choose to be on food stamps. Most people want a job … They want what we want.”

The new work requirements proposed in the bill would allow states to require 20 hours of work activities per week from any able-bodied adult with a child over age 1 if that person has child care available. The requirements would be applicable to all parents whose children are over age 6 and attending school.

The legislation is the House’s effort to finish work on a wide-ranging farm bill, which has historically included both farm programs and food stamps. The House Agriculture Committee approved a combined bill earlier this year, but it was defeated on the floor in June after conservatives revolted, saying the cuts to food stamps weren’t high enough. That bill included around $2 billion in cuts annually.

After the farm bill defeat, Republican leaders split the legislation in two and passed a bill in July that included only farm programs. They promised the food stamp bill would come later, with deeper cuts.

In order to negotiate the bill with the Senate, Republicans said Thursday that one more step is needed — the House will have to hold a procedural vote to allow both the farm and food stamp bills to go to a House-Senate conference together. It is unclear if Republicans who pushed to split the two bills will oppose that effort.

Once the bills get to that conference, negotiations with the Senate will not be an easy task. A Senate farm bill passed in June would only make a tenth of the cuts to food stamps, or $400 million, and the White House has issued a veto threat against the bill. The two chambers will also have to agree on policy for farm subsidies amid disputes between different crops.

Every single Democrat voting on Thursday opposed the bill. Many took to the floor with emotional appeals.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the bill is a “full assault on the health and economic security of millions of families.” Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett called it the “let them starve” bill.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday that House Republicans are attempting to “literally take food out of the mouths of hungry Americans in order to, again, achieve some ideological goal.”

The Congressional Budget Office says that if the bill were enacted, as many as 3.8 million people could lose their benefits in 2014.

Around 1.7 million of those would be the able-bodied adults who would be subject to work requirements after three months of receiving food stamps. The 1996 welfare law put that limit into law, but most every state has been allowed to waive that requirement since the Great Recession began in 2008.

The other 2.1 million would lose benefits because the bill would largely eliminate so-called categorical eligibility, a method used by many states that allows people to automatically qualify for food stamps if they already receive other benefits. Some of those people who qualify that way do not meet current SNAP income and asset tests.


Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

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  • charlie

    I can never understand how the “christian” repubs can hate the poor and love the rich in light of what the bible says about the rich.

    • Sara M.

      Those who are legitimately poor can get food stamps. This legislation cuts out those who choose to be lazy and worthless.

      If you want to support those who choose not to even try to support themselves, nothing is stopping you from doing so privately. Plus, if you give bums a handout directly, there are no administrative costs. Win-win, right???

  • Jack Makokov

    This bill also kept billions in tax breaks for hedge fund managers and no farm subsidy cuts. Guess rickets will make a comeback, now that more people will be eating clay. Question for our religion-obsessed conservative friends: what would Jesus do?

    • countrydawg

      Obviously, he’d invest in Monsanto or another agricultural giant, and teach Personal Responsibility(TM) and Free Market Theory(TM) to the poor. Or starve.

  • DoubleTalk

    From what I have seen, they need to cut the amount of food stamp entitlement. I see folks buying better food than I can afford working. Next go after those abusing the program in such ways as taking orders from others, going and buying it on their Card and getting cash for it.

    Some years ago we fussed about this and they said we were crazy. Well it has come to some news channels lately. Politicians don’t like to loose votes over these things.

    Nothing worse than seeing someone get out of an Escalade or other vehicle with wheels and rims worth more than I drive and using the Card for food.

    Another worthy program being abused.

    • TWBDB

      I completely agree with you Doubletalk. And I agree with the Republicans on this one. This program definitely needs to be trimmed down.

  • guest

    It would seem pretty clear to me that the House is only pushing this outrageous number because the Senate version cut 4 billion from the program IMHO they wish to get a 20 billion dollar cut out of conference.

    What concerns me is the reasoning behind the cuts. In a country with over 320 hundred million people it is not surprising that there are 47 million receiving aid. We have been struggling with 8+% unemployment and some of the worst under employment we have seen since the 1940s. The programs are doing what they were designed to do. At the same time the House does not mind giving subsidies and tax breaks to some of the most profitable corporations in history that doesn’t need them.

    It surprises me how out of touch Republicans have become.