When congressional leaders announced they had reached an agreement on the latest version of the farm bill on Monday, hungry Americans and their advocates were braced for bad news regarding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. Though the cuts are far less deep than threatened—$8 billion over 10 years instead of the $39 billion the initial House version had hoped to “save”—the changes will mean even leaner times for America's poor.
“There are already millions and millions who don’t have enough food and are trying to make it on a few hundred dollars a month to feed their families,” said Michelle Friedman, communications director for the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, at a press conference Wednesday. If the bill passes, she continued, "it’s going to very literally mean less food for Americans."
In the hours leading up to today's House vote, an array of New York City charitable organizations, chefs, and elected officials, including Friedman's group, City Harvest, the United Way of New York City, chef Marc Murphy of Benchmarc Restaurants, chef-restaurateur Tom Colicchio, and others, called on Congress to reject the SNAP-slashing bill.
The bipartisan agreement, which passed the House today, amounts to more than $800 million per year in cuts, most of which will come from closing a qualification loophole: The SNAP benefit for 850,000 households in 17 states will be reduced by about $90 per month. The other major change lawmakers made in the revised farm bill is to the agricultural subsidy program, which will move away from direct payments and toward a larger federal crop insurance program.
Additional tweaks to SNAP prevent college students, undocumented immigrants, and lottery winners from receiving food assistance, while new job-training pilot programs are being touted as a way to encourage the nearly 48 million recipients to look for work—never mind that more than half of recipients are already working during any given month they receive benefits.
However you package it, the cuts will exacerbate the food insecurity problem in America.
“It’s wrong,” Colicchio said at Wednesday's press conference, which took place at Manhattan's Church of St. Francis Xavier. The setting was appropriate, as New York City would itself bear a quarter of the cuts. “We have to start voting around these issues. We have to start making hunger a voting issue, the way the NRA has made guns a voting issue, the way reproductive rights have been made a voting issue. We need to send a message loud and clear to Congress: Someone needs to lose their job over these cuts.”
The SNAP cuts included in the farm bill would be piled on top of the cuts that went into effect Nov. 1. In addition to directly affecting hungry American families, Friedman says the cuts will hurt the economy. She points to data suggesting that every $1 in SNAP generates $1.73 in the economy.
“These cuts aren’t acceptable, and if Congress should pass this, we don’t support this law and the president shouldn’t sign it,” Friedman said.
Last year the White House said President Obama would veto a farm bill that included the larger SNAP. Today, however, spokesman Jay Carney said the president would sign the bill if it passed the Senate.