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August 22, 2014, 1:52 am

Farm Bill passes, cuts to SNAP total $8.6 billion

As the U.S. House of Representatives passed a contentious, multibillion dollar Farm Bill with a 251-166 vote on Tuesday, the Coalition Against Hunger wants citizens to be aware of the drastic cuts included in the bill.

According to the coalition, the five-year farm bill, otherwise referred to as House Resolution 2642, will cut a whopping $8.6 billion from SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Coalition Against Hunger Policy Manager Julie Zaebst said that this cut to SNAP will negatively affect 850,000 American households — 175,000 in Pennsylvania alone.

“Pennsylvania and the 14 other states that operate Heat and Eat programs would bear the burden of these cuts. The Coalition estimates that 175,000 households in our state will lose an average of $65 a month in food assistance. But many people would lose much more. We spoke with a senior the other day who receives just $755 a month in Social Security benefits. She’s likely to see her food assistance reduced from $189 a month to just $53. For the many seniors like her, these SNAP cuts will push them closer to the edge, making it that much harder to pay the rent each month or afford the prescriptions they need,” Zaebst said. “Cuts to SNAP are also an economic loss to our state. The Coalition estimates that Pennsylvania would lose more than $136 million in federally funded SNAP benefits that would have otherwise been spent at grocery stores, farmers markets and small businesses across the Commonwealth. Food banks and other charities in our state already can’t keep up with the skyrocketing need, and they certainly can’t fill the $136 million gap in food aid left by this Farm Bill.

“Congress cannot continue to hack away at a program that serves as a lifeline for more than 1.8 million in our state. These SNAP cuts come on top of the across-the-board cuts that just took place in November,” Zaebst continued. “The Farm Bill will only worsen the stressful situation facing many of the most vulnerable people in our state.”

Philadelphia-area Congressmen Chaka Fattah, D-2nd, and Robert Brady, D-1st, voted against the Farm Bill.

The $8.6 billion cut is actually less than the figure first adopted by House Republicans, who initially drafted a Farm Bill that included a $39 billion cut to SNAP. The bill voted on Tuesday received a lukewarm response from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“To be sure, the conference agreement does include $8.6 billion in SNAP cuts over the next decade. Yet it stands in sharp contrast to the nearly $40 billion in SNAP cuts in the House-passed bill of September, which contained an array of draconian provisions and would have thrown 3.8 million people off SNAP in 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The conference agreement includes none of the draconian House provisions — and it removes virtually no low-income households from SNAP,” read a portion of the Farm Bill summary provided by CBPP Founder and President Robert Greenstein. “The SNAP cut that remains is a provision to tighten an element of the SNAP benefit calculation that some states have converted into what most people would view as a loophole. Specifically, some states are stretching the benefit formula in a way that enables them not only to simplify paperwork for many SNAP households, but also to boost SNAP benefits for some SNAP households by assuming those households pay several hundred dollars a month in utility costs that they do not actually incur. Congress did not intend for states to stretch the benefit rules this way, and longstanding SNAP supporters like myself find it difficult to defend. Moreover, a future administration could close off this use of the rules administratively, without any congressional action.

“Nationally, four percent of beneficiaries would face a benefit cut, CBO projects. Over the coming decade, total SNAP benefits would be 1.3 percent lower as a result. The 850,000 households that would lose benefits would, however, face a significant benefit reduction — costing them an average of $90 a month.”

Philadelphia Unemployment Project Executive Director John Dodds said it was unconscionable for politicians to cut SNAP, especially in light of a still-recovering economy and with poverty rates continuing to rise.

“People have had their SNAP benefits cut back already, and they already don’t have enough food for meals, so cutting SNAP again is crazy,” Dodds said. “People are losing unemployment benefits, which are often their only income, and stamps were the one thing they could get. It’s unbelievable that in this country, with all this wealth, that we cut these programs rather than raise taxes on people with wealth.

“There’s this narrative playing out that we have to balance the budget, but we have massive unemployment and massive poverty. Until that is resolved, you cannot balance the budget,” Dodds continued, noting the country’s willingness to finance several wars and conflicts, but when it comes to unemployment and poverty, the conversation usually tilts toward cuts. “This is counter to what we should be doing. We should putting out more money [through programs] to spur the economy. This is so backwards, and it’s hurting families and children.”

 

Contact Staff Writer Damon C. Williams at (215) 893-5745 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .