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Monday, June 18, 2012 - Page updated at 04:00 p.m.
Congress shouldn't pass Farm Bill that sacrifices food stamps
TOO many Americans are still out of work to justify cuts to the food stamp program. Democrats and Republicans banded together in the Senate to defeat an amendment by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to slash spending on the program nearly in half.
Still, a version of the 2012 Farm Bill passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee and being debated by the Senate floor contains a $4.5 billion reduction over the next decade to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program budget. The cuts aren't as steep as Paul's proposal and they represent a fraction of the federal program's $80 billion a year spending. But it would nonetheless be a devastating blow to poor families.
The cuts would slice benefits in 234,000 Washington state households by an average of $90 each.
An amendment restoring cuts, offered by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is the best solution. Her amendment would not add to the deficit. Restoring cuts to the food stamp program would be paid for by capping subsidies to the highly profitable crop insurance companies. Washington's Sen. Patty Murray supports the amendment.
Participation in the food stamps program is high. That's understandable given widespread unemployment.
Congress must reduce spending. But this isn't the time to cut food benefits. Moreover, the program meets fiscal restraint goals on its own. Enrollment is attuned to changes in the economy; as people find jobs fewer are eligible for food stamps. Reforms in the program guard against waste, fraud and abuse.
Food stamps are one of the most effective first lines of defense against hunger. Nearly half of food stamp recipients are children. One in four children in Washington state live in households where the family struggles to have enough food on a regular basis. Benefits are modest, about $1.50 per meal per person. It is difficult to imagine building well-rounded, nutritional meals each day on that amount but poor families are grateful for the opportunity the funding provides.
At a time when much of America's focus is rightly trained on education, it is worth reminding the Senate that children with empty stomachs are less likely to do well in school.
In the Senate and the House, party lines have been drawn over the issue. Republicans in the House propose cutting food stamps by $33 billion over 10 years.
The Senate should pass Gillibrand's amendment and set the correct tone for negotiations with the House.
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