Congress’s war on food stamps

Congress must work to balance the budget, but until it stops stifling job growth, it should be careful about shredding social safety nets. Photo: AP

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2013 — Democrats in Congress, along with a few moderate Republicans, are fighting to preserve the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) for low-income families, senior citizens on fixed incomes, and veterans still looking for work.

Congress voted this week to pass a bill that cuts the food stamp program by $40 billion dollars for the next 10 years. This could mean that 3.8 million people will lose their benefits.

SEE RELATED: The truth about the House $39 billiion food stamp cuts

Today, more Americans receive food stamps than ever before. Republican lawmakers who opposed the bill argued to restore the program’s original eligibility requirements and preserve the program only for people who actually need assistance. 

The battle between Congress and the food stamps initiative began in the House Agriculture Committee, which intended to cut only $20 billion from the program. In an effort to limit the number of participants, Republican lawmakers introduced a similar bill supporting job training and career assessment as a requirement to qualify for food stamps.

According to the Congressional Budget Office in Washington, spending for food stamps would add an estimated $700 billion over 10 years to the national debt. House Republicans are emphasizing that Congress’s recent cuts aren’t about getting rid of food stamps, but about ending fraud and abuse in these programs. This includes ending loopholes in the system and ensuring that those who actually need the program have the access to it.

Despite a polarized Washington, House Republicans and Senate Democrats are working to restructure SNAP, as lawmakers thoroughly review two parts of this bill. The first part of this restructuring will connect applicants already receiving food stamps with a review of their career assessments to eventually get off the program. Another effort is to reduce the funds granted to the States. This is intended to force Washington to make tough decisions to guarantee that applicants are looking for work while utilizing government benefits.

After the 2008 recession, most States were granted federal waivers to put unemployed adults over the age of 18 on SNAP. SNAP applicants without children were still eligible for food stamps. Participants now are only eligible for three months of food stamp coverage in a three year period, and they must have children or dependents.

If the current bill passes, millions of unemployed participants, including seniors and young adults, may lose their access to food stamps. The budget deficit and national debt are huge problems, but with only 47 percent of adults holding full-time jobs, safety-net programs like SNAP take on much greater signficance.

SEE RELATED: SNAP Challenge shows lawmakers ignorance of budgeting skills

Being ineligible for food stamps while being unable to find employment can be catastrophic. Washington lawmakers must work to balance the budget, but they should be careful how they do it. Until Washington can stop stifing job growth, it should be careful about putting bigger holes in the social safety net.

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