Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Opposition to food stamp cuts delays House budget reconciliation bill

Opposition by moderate Republicans has derailed efforts to cut food stamps for some 300,000 participants as part of the budget reconciliation bill on the House floor. Under this bill, House Republican leaders had hoped to cut more than $800 million from the Food Stamp Program over five years.

Charles Abbott of Reuters reports:
Some moderate Republicans have said they may not vote for a bill that cuts welfare programs. Meanwhile, conservatives complain the bill does not go far enough on energy issues, such as opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.

Republicans control the House by a narrow majority and cannot afford to have many party members vote against the bill.

Two anti-hunger groups said they hoped Republicans would abandon the plan to cut food stamps, used by some 25.8 million poor Americans each month to help buy food, according to government data.

The $844 million in proposed cuts would affect 300,000 food stamp recipients and, in a ripple effect, make 40,000 children ineligible for free school lunches.

The Senate's version of a budget-cutting bill would reduce $35 billion in federal spending, but does not touch food stamps or health care to the poor and elderly.

"I'm sure they (House Republicans) are looking at a lot of things," said Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson (news, bio, voting record), the Democratic leader on the House Agriculture Committee. "They're in a real box."

House staff workers said modification or deletion of the food stamp cuts appeared to be a prime topic in efforts by Republican leaders to amass the 218 votes needed to pass the budget bill. One staff worker said some sort of reduction seemed the most likely outcome.

Defenders say this summer's hurricanes showed the value of federal food aid to struggling citizens. Blunt said cuts would "reform the system so you get better results" by sharpening the focus of the program "for the people you intended to help instead of just adding on to the edges."
Meanwhile, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a nice analysis showing that the "SUPPOSED EASING OF HOUSE FOOD STAMP IMMIGRANT CUT TURNS OUT TO BE LARGELY COSMETIC."
The House Rules Committee change would make two modest exemptions to this rule that would apply to limited number of current food stamp recipients. These exemptions, however, would simply result in a phasing-in of this cut over a two-year period. After that period, the full cut would be in effect.

The Rules Committee would exempt from the cut those legal immigrants who both are participating in the Food Stamp Program at the time of enactment and either are age 60 or older or have applied to naturalize for citizenship.[1] Contrary to what some Members of Congress seem mistakenly to believe, the Rules Committee change does not exempt those poor non-elderly legal immigrants with serious disabilities whom the Agriculture Committee provision would disqualify. These people would be terminated immediately.

The Rules Committee change reduces the overall savings from this cut from $275 million over five years to $255 million over five years — a reduction of 7 percent. Thus, some 93 percent of the food stamp immigrant cut remains. This change would reduce the bill’s total food stamp cuts from $844 million over five years to $824 million, a reduction of just two percent.

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