While the House of Representatives prepares for another round of floor debate on cutting food assistance, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow says the lower chamber's desire to cut people from food stamps isn't centered around reality.
"What the House Republicans are voting on is nothing more than extremely divisive, extremely partisan political exercise that by the way is going nowhere," Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, said on the Senate floor Wednesday. "And it is jeopardizing the passage of a five-year farm bill."
The House Rules Committee also met to spell out the ground rules for the floor debate on a bill that would cut $39 billion over 10 years from the old food-stamp program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The expected floor debate Thursday will mark the third major political battle over nutrition programs on the House floor since earlier this summer when the House Agriculture Committee's version of the farm bill failed to garner enough votes to pass.
Since that June floor debacle, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has split nutrition programs from the rest of the farm bill and set up current legislation as a potential entitlement reform that would limit the amount of time able-bodied adults could receive SNAP benefits. Able-bodied adults would be limited to three months of benefits over three years.
Stabenow said of the House leadership moves, "We have never seen this kind of partisan politics injected into agricultural and food policies as now." She argued on the Senate floor that the House measure is one more push as part of a "relentless assault on the poor." While Wall Street has recovered from the economic collapse five years ago, "millions of families on Main Street are waiting for their situation to improve," she said.
Stabenow said 49% of families who receive SNAP benefits do have at least one person who is employed. Wages, as a percent of the economy, are at a 30-year low. "There aren't enough good-paying jobs, as we all know,"
The fight over SNAP comes as the U.S. Census Bureau reports the nation's poverty levels remain unchanged at 15% of the country.
There are parallels between the Census data and SNAP participation. About 46.5 million people are estimated to live below poverty levels. The number of people on SNAP is roughly 47 million people.
"The House bill will never see the light of day in the United States Senate," she said. "It's time to stop the political games around hunger in America."
Stabenow also noted that the House bill has a perverse financial incentive that would allow states to keep half the money that would be spent on food when they cut people off food assistance.
SNAP recipients will already see a cut Nov. 1 because a provision under the 2009 stimulus bill expires. That will reduce the average monthly benefit by $36 a month for a family of four. The average SNAP benefit per person now is $4.53 a day.
Stabenow stood next to a placard with a photo of President Ronald Reagan, quoting Reagan, "As long as there is one person in this country who is hungry, that's one person too many."
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