Democrats Accept More Cuts in Food Stamp Program

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We’re proud to collaborate with The Nation in sharing insightful journalism related to income inequality in America. The following is an excerpt from Nation contributor Greg Kaufmann’s “This Week in Poverty” column.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 14, 2013, during the committee's hearing on the Farm Bill, officially known as the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 14, 2013, during the committee's hearing on the Farm Bill, officially known as the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

I always expect the worst from the House Republicans when it comes to SNAP (food stamps) and the Farm Bill. So while much attention and anger has been focused on the $20.5 billion cut proposed by the House Agriculture Committee — which would take food stamps away from nearly 2 million people and result in several hundred thousand low-income children no longer receiving free school meals — my reaction was more along the lines of… yeah, what did you expect?

I was actually more disturbed that the Democratic Senate Agriculture Committee would vote for a $4.1 billion cut in food stamps — even though the average benefit is about $1.46 per person, per meal, and a recent Institute of Medicine report demonstrates that benefit levels are already too low to stave off hunger. The cut “would mean $90 less a month for 500,000 families already struggling to make ends meet,” according to Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. Berg noted that an amendment by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand would have prevented the SNAP cuts “by instead cutting subsidies for crop insurance companies, many of which are foreign owned.”

Unfortunately, the committee failed to pass Sen. Gillibrand’s amendment, and Senate Democrats proved yet again that the party’s commitment to those who are the most economically vulnerable is about as thin as Republican cut proposals are deep.

But the party outdid itself on Wednesday when the Farm Bill was debated on the Senate floor. As Center on Budget and Policy Priorities president Robert Greenstein describes:

Senator David Vitter offered — and Senate Democrats accepted — an amendment that would increase hardship and will likely have strongly racially discriminatory effects. [It] would bar from SNAP, for life, anyone who was ever convicted of one of a specified list of violent crimes at any time — even if they committed the crime decades ago in their youth and have served their sentence, paid their debt to society, and been a good citizen ever since…. The amendment would [also] mean lower SNAP benefits for their children and other family members. So, a young man who was convicted of a single crime at age 19 who then reforms and is now elderly, poor and raising grandchildren would be thrown off SNAP, and his grandchildren’s benefits would be cut…. Senator Vitter hawked his amendment as one to prevent murderers and rapists from getting food stamps. Democrats accepted it without trying to modify it to address its most ill-considered aspects.

Antipoverty advocates suggest contacting your senators — particularly Harry Reid, Debbie Stabenow and Richard Durbin — to tell them that you oppose this provision. They suggest doing it as soon as possible since it’s unclear how quickly the Farm Bill will move.

You might also suggest to them that the party check Lost and Found for its spine, too.

But at Least We Have Congresswoman Barbara Lee

Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer introduced the Half-in-Ten Act of 2013, which would establish the Federal Interagency Working Group on Reducing Poverty. The working group would develop and implement a national strategy to reduce poverty by half in ten years, integrating federal policies on poverty reduction, and also provide regular progress reports to Congress.

“Our policies and programs addressing poverty have not kept pace with the growing needs of millions of Americans,” said Congresswoman Lee, who chairs the new Democratic Whip Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity and consistently represents the interests of low-income Americans. “It is time we make the commitment to confront poverty head-on, create pathways out of poverty and provide opportunities for all.”

I would imagine this bill has about as much a shot at passing the House as this blog has at becoming Speaker Boehner’s favorite bedtime reading. Nevertheless, I’m always thankful for Representative Lee — I’m glad the Democratic whip is supporting her efforts — and it’s always worthwhile to keep up with her work and listen to what she has to say.

And That Goes for Senator Bernie Sanders, Too

Senator Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, introduced legislation last week to reauthorize and strengthen the Older Americans Act, which supports Meals on Wheels and other critical programs for seniors such as in-home care, transportation, benefits access, caregiver support, chronic disease self-management, job training and placement, and elder abuse prevention.

“With 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day, our country’s growing population of seniors includes many who rely on these critical programs to help them stay in their own homes and communities,” said Sanders, speaking at an Older Americans Summit.

Funding has not kept pace with the growth in need or numbers, and recent cuts before the sequester hit have further eroded investments in key services.

In a letter endorsing Senator Sanders’s bill, National Council on Aging president and CEO James Firman writes that the legislation “can empower seniors and improve their health and economic security, bend downward the long-term entitlements cost curve, and promote greater program efficiency and coordination.”

The bill would also require the Bureau of Labor Statistics to create a consumer price index for the elderly that would account for spending on high-inflation goods and services like healthcare, prescription drugs and heating homes.

Greg Kaufmann is a Nation contributor covering poverty in America. His work has also appeared on Common DreamsAlternet,,, and He serves as an adviser for the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.
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