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House Vote Could Worsen Food Insecurity

By Barrington M. Salmon on September 25, 2013
© The Washington Informer

A vote by a majority of Republican members of the House of Representatives to cut $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistant Program (SNAP) could further jeopardize millions of people receiving assistance.

Last Thursday, Sept. 19, the House passed HR 3102, by a 217-210 vote. The bill would gouge $4 billion a year from SNAP for the next 10 years. While Senate leaders indicate that the bill won’t pass in their chamber and President Barack Obama has promised to veto the measure, the vote has unnerved social justice advocates, non-profits, and the operators of soup kitchens and food banks.

“When the House passed the bill last week, it was the next step in the Farm Bill,” said Christine Ashley, a policy analyst with Bread for the World. “The Senate proposed $4 billion in cuts to SNAP and we weren’t happy. That would affect 400,000 people.”

Ashley said she’s not sure what will happen to the bill but said representatives from the Senate and House will arrive at a compromise in a conference committee.

“I don’t expect $40 billion in cuts from the conference committee, but it will cause hardships anyway,” she said. “Unfortunately, the budget situation means that large programs like SNAP would come under scrutiny.”

Ashley said four million SNAP recipients could potentially lose their benefits, while 210,000 children would lose free school meals and 850,000 individuals and households would see their monthly benefits reduced by $90. Already, she added, every household receiving SNAP will see cuts to benefits on Nov. 1.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), said removing these benefits from those who’re unemployed would “put people on the path to self-sufficiency and independence.”

“This bill is designed to give people a hand when they need it most,” he said in remarks made prior to the vote. "Most people don't choose to be on food stamps. Most people want a job. Most people want to go out and be productive so that they can earn a living, so that they can support a family, so that they can have hope for a more prosperous future. They want what we want."

Yet critics of the bill have assailed those supporters of the measure, calling them everything from misguided and cynical to unfeeling.

Bread for the World is one of many social justice, advocacy and anti-hunger organizations lobbying Congress in an attempt to stave off cuts to welfare and other safety net programs.

Bread for the World President David Beckmann said advocates and those concerned about the cuts sent more than 3,000 emails and made hundreds of telephone calls to Congress to make clear their opposition to the cuts.

“Despite our best efforts, this nutrition bill passed by a vote of 217 to 210 on the House floor. The seven-vote margin reflects the pressure you exerted on your representatives,” he said on the organization’s website. “Now it is critical that you hold your representative accountable—let him or her know you were watching. Find out how House members voted and then call your representative. Either thank your representative for voting ‘no’ or express your outrage over a ‘yes’ vote.”

Beckmann said if the cuts are implemented, charities and churches would have to nearly double their food assistance to make up the difference.

Following the vote, the Chairs of the Congressional Tri-Caucus – comprised of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) – denounced the bill.

“With this vote, Republicans chose to remove the assistance that millions of Americans rely on to feed their families each day. At a time when national unemployment remains high, we should be supporting these programs; not cutting them,” said CBC Chairman Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH). “This vote does not reflect the values and principles of our nation.  We lose our direction when we turn our backs on millions of Americans in need.  I am confident that we will be able to restore funding to the SNAP program in Conference and protect the integrity of one of our most important anti-poverty programs.”

Her CAPAC colleague agreed.

“Once again, House Republicans have put struggling families on the chopping block,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA). “These cuts have a profound impact on the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. In the wake of the Great Recession, the number of AAPIs in poverty has increased by 38 percent, and [more than] 10 percent of our community relies on SNAP benefits to survive. It’s time for the Republican leadership to stop playing games with the most vulnerable among us. They are literally taking the food out of hungry mouths.

CHC Chairman Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) castigated his Republican colleagues for betraying families, military veterans, the disabled, seniors and children who will be drastically affected by the bill.

“It will literally be taking food out of the mouths of our most vulnerable residents. SNAP is a vital tool to fight hunger and help struggling Americans feed their families as they seek new employment, send their children to school, and get themselves back on their feet," he said. 

These cuts and the continued assault on social welfare programs by the Tea Party and GOP conservatives come at a time when churches, food banks and charities are staggering under the weight of the fallout from the 2008 economic meltdown, a lingering recession and a job market that left more than 12 million people out of work. More than $85 billion in across-the-board cuts caused by the Sequester last year has only exacerbated the problem for those dependent on programs like SNAP and the Women with Infant Children (WIC) Program.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress have already sliced about $800 from social welfare programs as a result of contentious debates over the debt ceiling and the Sequester. Those cuts meant that 600,000 women, infants, and children lost or stood to lose WIC services; 70,000 children were disallowed from taking advantage of Head Start programs; and medical staff at community health centers saw 900,000 fewer patients, said Brian Smedley, Ph.D., vice president of the Joint Center and director of its Health Policy Institute, during a panel discussion in March.

Non-whites and the poor continue to be disproportionately affected by the actions of Congress. According to two reports produced by the Bread for the World Institute, hunger and poverty are putting more African-American women and children at risk of malnutrition. More blacks live in poverty and are likely to go hungry and for women and children that means that one-third of all black children live in poverty. Further, nearly 50 percent of households headed by a single woman exist in poverty.

Recently released data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates that 25.1 percent of African-American households are food insecure and among households with children that number stands at 29.1 percent.

The principal cause of hunger is the inability to afford sufficient and nutritious food.

Despite the challenges Ashley said, she and other advocates will continue to fight on behalf of the most vulnerable.

“If the vote is any indication, it was a close vote. Advocacy is working. We have to keep making noise, let them know that these cuts are unacceptable,” she said.

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