Wednesday, April 18, 2012

House Agriculture Committee Slashes SNAP Spending By $33 Billion

A partisan battle over the nutrition safety net, which is about 80% of USDA's spending...
The House Agriculture Committee, led by Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) on Wednesday passed a reconciliation measure that would cut federal spending for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as Food Stamps) by $33 billion over 10 years. The measure passed by voice vote and was forwarded to the House Budget Committee. The debate was contentious along party lines, but both Lucas and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn) stressed that the measure is unlikely to become law, because the Senate does not plan to take up a budget resolution.

"I would contend this entire process is a waste of time," Peterson said.

"It doesn’t mean anything. The Senate has not agreed to reconciliation and...the Senate almost certainly will not touch this bill."

But the measure is obviously an indicator of House Ag's position on spending for the nutrition safety net in the upcoming Farm Bill.  SNAP is used by between 44 and 46 million Americans monthly, at an average cost of more than $6 billion. Spending and enrollment in the program has grown during the Obama Administration, peaking in December of 2011 with an all-time high of 46,514,157 recipients and $6.21 billion in benefits.  Enrollment was at 31,983,716 at the start of the Administration.

SNAP "comprises almost 80 percent of agricultural spending," Lucas said. "Over the past ten years, the cost of SNAP has nearly tripled—increasing by 270 percent. The cuts we are proposing today cut only four percent over the next ten years."

Lucas added that "none of these recommendations will prevent families that qualify for assistance under SNAP law from receiving their benefits," and laid out a series of proposals to reduce spending and remale the SNAP program, which he called "credible reforms that reduce waste and abuse."

These included closing loopholes so families can't "game the system;" ensuring that only cash assistance triggers SNAP eligibility, rather than categorical eligibility, which exists in some states; eliminating inflation indexing for states that provide nutrition education for SNAP participants; and eliminating USDA bonuses for states that administer the SNAP program effectively.

"We all support good government efforts, but taxpayers cannot afford to pay bonuses to states that are essentially just doing their job," Lucas said.

Peterson said that the Committee should put aside political posturing and get down to the business of writing legislation that will actually lead to a Farm Bill getting passed this year.

“We have a farm bill to write, Mr. Chairman," Peterson said. "We’ve heard from folks representing all titles of the farm bill from farm programs to conservation to nutrition. One thing is clear. They want us to get our work done, and they want us to get it done this year."

House AG has announced eight new Farm Bill hearings, which begin next week in Washington, DC.