WASHINGTON — Democrats lashed out at the GOP on Friday for the expiration of a stimulus-era extension of food stamp benefits as a family of four recipients began receiving about $36 less per month.
The Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program is tied up in a congressional conference that began this week to hash out the House and Senate differences over the Farm Bill.
“We believe that these cuts come at a time when many hardworking American families are still struggling to make ends meet in the wake of the worst recession in decades. And last year, the additional resources provided by the SNAP program lifted 7 million people out of poverty,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said today. “And that is why the president acknowledged this need when he proposed an extension of the Recovery Act adjustment through 2014 — or until March 2014 — in this 2014 budget request, and why the strategy currently underway in the House to reduce SNAP by removing millions of low-income families from the program does not make sense.”
The number of Americans on food stamps has hit a record high during the Obama administration, and spending on the program has doubled under President Obama after a previous doubling by President George W. Bush.
“Now, we’re committed to helping reduce the number of Americans who need SNAP the right way — by arming recipients with the skills they need to enter the workforce, earn the income they need to support a family and ultimately come off the program. And that’s our focus — job training, job skills, and, generally, growing the economy and focusing on creation of middle-class jobs. But in the meantime, there is a need out there for the kind of assistance that just last year lifted 7 million people out of poverty,” Carney continued.
On the House requirement that beneficiaries work 20 hours per week before receiving food stamps, he reiterated, “We took a pretty strong stand against it.”
Some Twitter users wryly noted Friday that the Democrats’ outrage over the nicked food stamp amounts came as they were advising Americans getting smacked with higher healthcare premiums in the wake of the Obamacare launch to suck it up and pay for the extra coverage.
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) framed the expiration as “American families struggling to make ends meet will have one more thing to worry about.”
“The $5 billion cut to SNAP benefits will impact 1 in 7 Americans, including seniors, the disabled, children, and low-wage working Americans. For these families and individuals, the cuts will literally keep food off of the table,” Hastings said. “This cut will force some of the hungriest people in our country to forego up to 21 meals every single month.Yet, Republicans remain determined to cut even more from the program.”
In his home state, about 18 percent of residents — or 1.7 million households — receive SNAP benefits.
Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) wants Congress to take up a standalone bill to extend the benefits while the Farm Bill makes its way through conference.
“Last evening was Halloween, and today Texas families and American families are waking up to a nightmare,” she said on MSNBC. “It is frankly a nightmare to try and live off of the SNAP dollars, as many families do. And if they did not have it, they would have nothing.”
Jackson Lee said she understands that her stopgap bill is “borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.”
“But right now you would fill in the gap for these families that are experiencing a nightmarish experience,” she said.
Jackson Lee was asked to respond to her Texas colleague, Republican Rep. Michael Conaway, who said, “Asking people to work in return for food stamp programs is not any form of cruel or unusual punishment. The dignity of work has long been a pretty common theme throughout all the ages.”
The Democrat retorted that GOPs are “living in a dream world.”
“Seventy percent of the people who get food stamps are working people. It’s the working poor. They have children in their household, one, two, three, four. They’re grandmothers taking care of the children of their children, either deceased, sick or with a number of other problems. You know, it pains my heart, it really does, that people are speaking from high mountaintops and failing to look down in the valley,” Jackson Lee said.
“There is no one that I’ve come across in my congressional district or elsewhere that is begging to be on food stamps. They are there because they need to. They’re there because they’re providing children the opportunity to go to school with a sense of grounding that they had an evening dinner and that these children can have a better opportunity.”
Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) acknowledged that the food stamps are the “biggest holdup” in trying to arrive at a conference agreement.
“My hope is that agreement will be reached. If you see an announcement that the conferees have reached an agreement on the nutrition title, then I think you can expect the farm bill will get out of the conference committee, it’ll move forward, and it’ll get the president’s signature. But that’s the key issue,” he told reporters on a conference call.
Still, Johanns said, there’s “a lot of pasture …between the Senate version, which is about $4 billion in cuts, and the House version, which is about $39 billion in cuts.”
“But at the end of the day, there’s going to be cuts to this program and there’s going to be cuts to the farm bill. No matter how you slice it and dice it, this farm bill will save $20 billion to $30 billion, maybe more,” he continued, adding that the Farm Bill negotiations offer the concurrent budget conference committee “a tremendous opportunity to bridge the difference between where Republicans are at and Democrats are at on the budget.”