Farm Bill Update: SNAP on the Chopping Block
By Patty Lovera
To pick up where we left off in July, this Farm Bill process has been anything but typical. The Senate has passed its Farm Bill, but since the House decided to split its bill in half and only pass the farm program portion, it’s time for them to now deal with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). Because the House didn’t pass the entire Farm Bill (farm policy and nutrition programs), House leadership refused to start the process for the conference committee to reconcile the Senate and House farm policy portions of the Farm Bill, even though both sides had completed their versions of the farm programs. As Politico’s David Rogers aptly observed, this Farm Bill process has turned into Washington’s version of the Hunger Games.
Millions of Americans lost their savings, jobs and homes due to the 2008 financial crisis, and many of these families are still struggling to make ends meet. The USDA estimates that one in seven Americans are hungry because of persistent poverty. However SNAP has offered a vital safety net to help families keep food on the table.
But later this week (probably Thursday), the House of Representatives will vote on a bill that would drastically slash this safety net. The half of the Farm Bill they left behind earlier this summer is now called H.R. 3102, the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013, and it threatens to cut $40 billion from SNAP. This would kick an estimated 3 million vulnerable people off the program by making it harder for them to qualify for benefits, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Understandably, the bill is highly controversial. Even if it does pass the House, such drastic cuts to nutrition funding likely won’t make it past the Senate or the president. What happens from there is unclear. The current Farm Bill, which is an extension from the fiscal cliff negotiations, expires at the end of September. Coincidentally, the government will also shut down on Oct. 1 unless Congress passes a continuing resolution to keep federal government funded. The Farm Bill could be extended yet again as part of that process. Or they could let it expire again. Either way, expect a lot more procrastination and drama.
But this week, the most critical thing to do is make sure that the House gets the message that such draconian cuts to a vital food safety program is unacceptable. Poverty remains persistently high and millions of Americans are still unable to find work. H.R. 3102 will only hurt those who are already struggling to survive and we cannot allow it to pass.