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Dems Lash Out at GOP After Narrow Food-Stamp Reform Victory

WASHINGTON — Democrats accused Republicans of starving children, veterans, and seniors with the passage of a bill to reform the food stamp program to the tune of $39 billion in savings.

The Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act hit the House floor for a vote today under a sharply worded veto threat from the White House.

“The bill would result in millions of Americans losing access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is one of our nation’s strongest defenses against hunger and poverty,” the Office of Management and Budget said on Wednesday. “These cuts would affect a broad array of Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, including working families with children, senior citizens, veterans, and adults who are still looking for work. Slashing SNAP also weakens our nation’s farm and rural economies.”

The bill tries to rein in food stamp spending that has doubled over the course of the Obama presidency to nearly $80 billion each year.

In the first SNAP reforms since 1996’s Welfare Reform Act, it caps work-requirement waivers, closes loopholes where recipients could get benefits from multiple states, ensures illegal immigrants and lottery winners are ineligible, allows states to conduct drug testing on SNAP applicants, cracks down on food-stamp fraud at retailers, and more. While cutting in some areas, the legislation reauthorizes food distribution programs to help Indian tribes.

The vote was 217-210 today, with all Democrats who voted opposing the legislation and 15 Republicans also voting against the bill.

The GOP “no” votes came from Reps. Shelly Moore Capito (W.Va.), Mike Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Jeff Fortenberry (Neb.), Chris Gibson (N.Y.), Michael Grimm (N.Y.), Richard Hanna (N.Y.), Walter Jones (N.C.), Peter King (N.Y.), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), Pat Meehan (Pa.), Gary Miller (Calif.), Chris Smith (N.J.), David Valadao (Calif.), Frank Wolf (Va.) and Don Young (Alaska).

Valadao, who represents a chunk of central California’s San Joaquin Valley, said “without this assistance many in my District would be unable to feed their families.”

“I recognize that there are problems with the SNAP program and while I believe reforms to the SNAP Program are necessary to ensure that those who truly need assistance receive it, I do not believe in making drastic changes to this program during a time of such great economic uncertainty without giving states flexibility enforcing proposed requirements,” he continued. “Portions of my district are suffering from more than 30 percent unemployment, making it nearly impossible for many to find work despite their best efforts. It is unfair to the American people for Congress to implement policies containing work requirements when our national economy is severely suffering.”

Republican proponents, though, said the cost-saving reforms are needed now precisely because of the economic crisis.

“An overextended, unchecked SNAP program won’t be capable of serving the citizens it’s purposed to help,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.).

“Consistent with the bipartisan belief that the solution to poverty is found through work, and not just aid, the Nutrition Reform & Work Opportunity Act reinstates Clinton-era SNAP work requirements. These rules stipulate that able-bodied adults with no dependents, must be looking for work, developing job skills, completing community service or obtain employment to draw food stamp benefits,” Foxx added. “Not only will this provision ensure that the truly needy continue to receive aid, it will also help these individuals compete and prepare for jobs.”

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), a driving force behind the bill, said on the House floor that the measure “is designed to give people a hand when they need it most.”

“Most people don’t choose to be on food stamps. Most people want a job. Most people want to go out and be productive so that they can earn a living, so that they can support a family, so that they can have hope for a more prosperous future. They want what we want. There may be some who choose to abuse this system – that’s not out of the realm of possibility – frankly it’s wrong. It’s wrong for hardworking, middle class Americans to pay for that,” Cantor said.

“…The truth is anyone subjected to the work requirements under this bill, who are able-bodied under 50, will not be denied benefits if only they are willing to sign up for the opportunity for work. There is no requirement that jobs exist.”

Democrats in both chambers lashed out at the “devastating” bill, though, claiming that the GOP was in the business of starving people.

“Families who are living in poverty – hungry children, seniors, troops and veterans who are just trying to figure out how to keep the lights on and put food on the table – they did not spend this nation into debt, and we should not be trying to balance the budget on their backs. They deserve better than what happened in Congress today,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

“We know that one in four American children are hungry. The Institute of Medicine did a report this year on SNAP/food stamps and concluded that our current safety net is inadequate in the face of hunger in the United States. In light of these facts, the House GOP has decided to pass a bill that cuts $40 billion from food stamps, directly punishing the hungry,” she added. “Millions more won’t be able to put food on the table if this draconian legislation were to become law. I will urge my Senate colleagues to stand together and fight these cuts in conference.”

Today’s legislation pulled out one of the most contentious issues of the larger farm bill, which Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wants to push into a conference committee.

“Though I’m not surprised, I’m extremely disappointed that the Tea Party-controlled House of Representatives continued its systematic assault on programs to support poor and working-class Americans today by passing legislation that cuts almost $40 billion from vital food assistance programs,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). “On its own, the policy is bad enough – it denies hungry children, seniors, veterans, and struggling families modest assistance to put food on the table, and it abandons the moral principles our country is built on.  But the twisted justifications from House Republicans are even worse.”

“They claim that food assistance programs foster a dependency culture in our country, add to our national debt, and hold back our economy, but in reality, nothing could be further from the truth,” the senator continued. “Study after study shows that food assistance programs lift millions of families out of poverty each year, provide a literal lifeline for children, seniors, and disabled Americans, and dramatically reduce homelessness and serious public health issues.”

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) derisively called the bill the “Increasing Hunger in America Act.”

“Ninety-two percent of people on SNAP are children, elderly, disabled, or already working,” Hastings said. “Cutting SNAP benefits for vulnerable and struggling Americans in the name of fiscal responsibility is just plain wrong. There are most certainly other ways to cut our national deficit that do not result in 50 million empty stomachs.”

But Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said the measure simply goes back and adds SNAP reforms that couldn’t be included in July’s farm bill.

“SNAP was originally designed to offer aid to those who truly needed assistance,” King said. “Unfortunately, it has turned into a bloated program with far too few checks and balances monitoring to whom the assistance is going. Participation in SNAP rose 65 percent from 2008 to 2012. During that same time, the total cost of the program rose from $37.6 billion to $78.4 billion a year. It is critical we get the growth of this program under control by ensuring that benefits go to only those who are in need.”

“My Democratic colleagues have long been for expanding the dependency class here in America. This bill provides temporary assistance to struggling families, but it also cuts out unnecessary spending and refocuses our limited resources on those truly in need.”