The truth about the House $39 billiion food stamp cuts

By the numbers, the House's much-decried food stamp bill is not nearly as painful as some would have you believe. Photo: AP Photos

WASHINGTON, Septmember 20, 2013 — The House of Representatives passed legislation on Thursday that cut $39 billion from the food stamp program, igniting fury among Democrats.

Opponents of the move claimed that families, seniors, and veterans would be hurt, and the White House has now threatened a veto.

SEE RELATED: House Republicans grapple with defunding ObamaCare

Republicans immediately drew fire from the Obama administration, the Senate, and Democrats in the House. The bill did not have a single bipartisan vote, and with 15 moderate Republicans siding with the left, blame for its passage rests solely on the conservative caucus.

Though the bill will never make it through the Senate, it has given talking heads yet another reason to pile on the big, bad House Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid claimed that the bill was basically “snatching food out of the hands” of the poor, while other opponents argued against the measure’s “heartless” nature. And although $39 billion does seem like a serious hit, the House bill is not nearly as devastating as some have made it out to be.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has more than doubled its spending since 2008, when President Obama was elected to office. At this point, one in seven Americans uses food stamps. Much of that growth is thanks to a 2009 measure that waived work requirements in exchange for SNAP benefits; prior to that, “able-bodied adults” could only use food stamps for three months in a three-year period if they did not work or worked less than 20 hours a week.

Though the waiver was supposedly part of the stimulus plan, the Agriculture Department continues to allow states to hand out food stamps indiscriminately if they pass certain economic tests, and most do.

One of the money-saving tricks employed by the House bill restores the work requirements that were already in place just four years ago. Some 1.7 million “able-bodied adults” would no longer be permitted to remain on food stamps indefinitely.

Another provision of the bill eliminates categorical eligibility, which is a system that lets people receiving other forms of government aid qualify automatically for SNAP — even if they don’t otherwise meet income and asset requirements.

The bill also allows states to require drug tests in exchange for assistance, and bars lottery winners from continuing to depend on stamps. For a program that is designed to be a temporary last resort, such policy tweaks simply keep SNAP honest.

SEE RELATED: House defunds ObamaCare while Democrats talk of government shutdown

Many Democrats blasting the cuts suffered from sticker shock over the $39 billion savings tab, but this too is a misleading figure. The cuts are to be parceled out over the next decade—which means that each year, only about $4 billion will disappear from SNAP’s books.

That’s roughly the equivalent of trimming a nickel out of every dollar the program spends.

Proponents of the bill argued that these common-sense cuts would keep the program alive for those who really need it, now and in the future. Safety net programs such as SNAP accounted for 12 percent of federal spending in 2012, and at a time when America’s debt is increasingly the focus of national concern, a chunk of the budget that large cannot be ignored.

Republicans in the House have taken a beating this week over the allotment of federal dollars, from food stamp reform to the much-hyped defunding of ObamaCare.

Public outrage and the Senate’s refusal to play ball illustrate the enormous challenge Congress will face in attempting to reign in spending

The national debt increased more under Obama’s first term than in President Bush’s two; in fact, Obama has racked up more debt than any president in history. Few will argue that the spending status quo is sustainable, but the food stamp fight proves that even minor cuts will inflict outsize political pain on the lawmakers who authorize them.  

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