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Advocates outraged over $21 billion cut to food stamps program

food stampsBy Zenitha Prince
Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from the Afro American Newspaper

Congressional leaders and anti-hunger advocates expressed outrage over a U.S. House committee’s passage of a bill that includes a $21 billion slash in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the nation’s largest nutrition assistance program.

The bill, formally known as the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013, passed out of committee by a vote of 36-10 on May 15. A day before, the Senate passed its version of the farm bill, including $4 billion in cuts to SNAP, by a vote of 15-5.

“A vote for this level of cuts is shameless,” said David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. “Millions of people will lose food assistance, and hundreds of thousands of households will see their benefits cut dramatically at a time when families across the country are struggling with long-term unemployment or reduced wages. Hungry and poor people do not deserve to bear the brunt of our deficit-reduction efforts.”

Supporters of the bill say the cuts in SNAP, better known as the food stamp program, reflect savings from the elimination of errors and fraud — the first reform of the program since the Welfare Reform Act of 1996.

“I am proud of the committee’s effort to advance a farm bill with significant savings and reforms,” said Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. “We achieve nearly $40 billion in savings by eliminating outdated government programs and reforming others.”

But detractors said SNAP has the lowest error rate among federal programs, and the budget cuts penalize those who need the government’s help the most.

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., urged his colleagues to consider the moral implications of allowing so many Americans to go hungry.

These cuts come “at a time when we have 50 million hungry Americans. At a time when we have 17 million hungry kids,” McGovern said. “Cutting SNAP — making it harder for hungry Americans to put food on their tables — is the wrong thing.”

The proposed measure would remove 2 million SNAP recipients from the program, reduce SNAP benefits by about $90 each month for 850,000 households, end free school meals for 210,000 children and cut international food aid by $2.5 billion over five years.

Those measures are in addition to a $25 per month cut that every SNAP recipient will see this fall when the increase from the Recovery Act ends.

Feeding America estimates that these cuts would amount to over 8 billion lost meals for struggling families.

“If divided evenly across Feeding America’s national network of food banks, every food bank would have to provide an additional 4 million meals each year for the next 10 years, and that is just not possible,” said Bob Aiken, president and CEO of Feeding America.

“There is no way that charity would be able to make up the difference. We are already stretched thin meeting sustained high need, and we simply do not have the resources to prevent hunger in all of the families who would be impacted by these cuts.”

The groups say they will continue to lobby lawmakers to reverse course and restore SNAP’s funds as the bill moves to the House floor. And several lawmakers have vowed to do the same.

“We must stand for the most vulnerable in our country,” McGovern said in his floor speech. “And we must end hunger now — not make it worse.”

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