Leaders in the House of Representatives have proposed a farm bill that would cut $1.6 billion in aid from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, part of $3.5 billion in proposed annual cuts.
The bill, which has been offered as a bipartisan compromise by House Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., could force as many as three million low-income people off of food assistance programs.
The cuts would slash $16.5 billion in food aid out of the budget over ten years. Most of the cuts would come from the elimination of “categorical eligibility,” which allows states to tie eligibility for SNAP funds to the states’ standards for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Currently, over 40 states use the criteria to determine SNAP eligibility, which can sometimes mean people earning more than 130 percent of the poverty line can get aid if their disposable income falls below that line, due to child care costs related to work, for example.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that between two and three million people could lose their benefits. Additionally, the change in criteria would cause 280,000 children to lose eligibility for free or reduced school lunch. The cuts also would eliminate state flexibility in administering the TANF and SNAP programs.
“Underfunding this critically important program when families temporarily rely on it to put food on the table in a tough economy is irresponsible and inhumane,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., in a statement given to the Huffington Post.
Peterson emphasized the need for action, saying that unless the House acts soon, “We jeopardize one of the economic bright spots of our nation’s fragile economy.”
The House has been under pressure to take some action on the farm bill. The current farm bill expires on September 30, and Congress would have to either pass a new funding bill or a temporary extension before then to avoid a massive disruption in federal farm and aid programs.
The Senate has already passed a farm bill, which would cut $23 billion in spending over 10 years but which does not feature the significant cuts to aid programs that the House proposal does. The Senate bill passed with bipartisan support by a 64-35 vote.
Farm Funding Also Cut
The House bill, like the bill passed by the Senate, would cut a significant amount of money from direct aid to farmers, moving farm aid to more of an insurance-based model.
Both the House and Senate bills would eliminate the Direct Payment program, which gives aid to farmers even when they do not plant a crop. The Senate bill offers crop insurance to protect against losses, while the House bill offers farmers a choice of either insurance or a price support program.
Assuming the House is able to pass a bill, the House and Senate bills would have to go to a conference committee where differences would be hashed out. Whatever compromise can be reached between the two houses will face serious headwinds. House conservatives have been demanding even more severe cuts in food aid than the House compromise bill proposes, and the Democratic-controlled Senate has been loath to authorize any cuts to aid to the needy, especially during a slow recovery from a deep recession.
Image Credit: Clementine Gallot