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Your Voice is Essential This Fall

Gridlock Continues in Congress

August 2013

When members of Congress return to Washington on Sept. 9, following a five-week summer recess, they face a mountain of urgent issues—and a new round of debate over the federal budget.

Much of the unfinished business Congress will address this month directly affects hungry and poor people. Decisions made this fall will impact the lives of vulnerable people, both at home and abroad, for years to come.

At the top of the list of congressional priorities this month is working to avoid a government shutdown. Legislators have just nine working days from the date of their return to pass a continuing resolution that would temporarily fund the government until Congress finalizes the budget for fiscal year 2014. Failure to reach a compromise could mean a government shutdown that would harm vulnerable groups, some of whom have already suffered through program cuts and reductions because of sequestration, such as Meals on Wheels recipients.

Negotiations around funding the government offer an opportunity for legislation to replace the sequester. Since sequestration began, Bread for the World has been pushing Congress to replace these harmful across-the-board cuts with a balanced approach that includes both revenues and responsible spending cuts that do not harm low-income people or communities. Without this balanced approach, priorities such as international poverty-focused development assistance, WIC, and other safety net programs such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), will continue to be at risk of deep cuts.

SNAP is facing several threats this fall. This month, House leadership will release the full text of their proposal to cut $40 billion from SNAP over 10 years. Earlier in the summer, the House was unable to pass a unified farm bill that included $20 billion cuts to SNAP. In July, the House decided to split the farm bill and passed farm program legislation that did not include the nutrition provisions, the largest of which is SNAP. As expected, splitting the farm bill—historically a single, bipartisan piece of legislation that has connected the numerous pieces of our food system—exposes SNAP to unprecedented cuts.

According to the draft framework for the nutrition-only bill, the $40 billion in cuts come from tougher work requirements, particularly for able-bodied adults without dependents. These requirements would remove millions of people from the program. The House is expected to consider their bill immediately after returning from August recess, during the week of Sept. 9. If passed, there will then be a farm bill conference committee between the House and Senate, where members of Congress will attempt to come to final agreement on a farm bill.

Unfortunately, no matter what happens with farm bill negotiations, SNAP recipients will still see changes to their benefits this fall on Nov. 1, when the 2009 Recovery Act’s temporary increase to SNAP expires. This means that 47 million individuals who rely on this vital program will automatically see their benefits reduced.

Faithful advocates must remain vigilant during this crucial time. Congress cannot allow efforts to reduce the federal deficit to overshadow the people who are most in need of assistance. We must continue to ask members of Congress to move beyond gridlock and come to agreement on these issues while also protecting programs that help hungry and poor people.

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