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."