Food Stamp Fight on Capitol Hill

  • July 09, 2012
  • By Pamela Prah

Congress will consider dramatic changes to the way states administer the food stamp program when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill this week from the Fourth of July recess.

The House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday (July 11) will begin debating its version of a farm bill that includes cutting the food stamp program by $16 billion over 10 years, more than three-and-a-half times the level of reduction in the Senate's approved farm bill.

As Stateline has reported, the number of Americans collecting food stamps continues to grow, with some 20 million more Americans getting food stamps now than before the recession, bringing the total to a record 46 million.

Critics say changes in previous farm bills have made it too easy to get food stamps, technically called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The House wants to change that by restricting “categorical eligibility,” or automatic eligibility, to only those households receiving cash assistance from Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or other state general assistance programs.

“Receiving a TANF-funded brochure or referral to an “800” number hotline would no longer automatically make a household eligible for SNAP,” according to a summary of the House proposal released July 5.

The advocacy group Food Research and Action Center estimates that changing categorical eligibility would cut 1.8 million people a year from SNAP and “undermine access to free school meals for 280,000 low-income children.” The National Conference of State Legislatures has opposed ending or limiting categorical eligibility, arguing that such a move would increase administrative costs to states by requiring them to re-determine eligibility for SNAP.

The House bill also would require states to report how food stamp recipients are gaining skills or experience that leads to work and would stop giving bonuses to states for signing up people to the food stamp program.

The House proposal was developed by the House Agriculture Committee's Republican chairman and ranking Democrat, but it is sure to set off a heated debate in the GOP-controlled House. The Senate bill, which won approval last month in a rare bipartisan fashion, would cut about $4.5 billion from the food stamp program over 10 years.

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