The opinions expressed in this Op-Ed are solely those of Senator Stabenow, Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Ag
This week, they are bringing a bill to the floor that would cut food assistance by a whopping $40 billion and kick nearly 4 million people off the program in the next year, including children, seniors, veterans and disabled Americans.
We have never before seen this kind of partisanship injected into a farm bill. What the House GOP is voting on will never become law, but it seriously jeopardizes the chances a farm bill will pass.
Conservative ideologues vilify beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as “welfare queens” gaming the system. But the real faces of food assistance are seniors struggling to buy groceries. They’re veterans who bravely served our country. They’re children who are hungry through no fault of their own.
In fact, half of those who get food from SNAP are children; Eighty-five percent are children and their parents, people with disabilities and senior citizens.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) says the Republican plan is about requiring food assistance recipients to work, but most people receiving food assistance who can work already do. More than 80 percent of families on SNAP with an adult who can work did work in the year before or after receiving food assistance. For families with children, the number is almost 90 percent.
The reality is that in the aftermath of the recession, many people trying hard to find a job still can’t. There are still three Americans looking for work for every job opening. For those out of work, food assistance is a short-term lifeline to keep food on the table while they try to find a job. The average recipient receives assistance for only 10 months or less.
In a cruel irony, Cantor’s bill would cut worker training and job placement programs for people who are trying to get back to work and get off SNAP. It would also eliminate or reduce assistance to many working families and would mean 210,000 children would lose school lunches.
And the Cantor bill offers cash-strapped states a truly perverse incentive, allowing them to keep half of the federal money that would have been spent on food whenever they kick someone off the program!
We all want to spend less on food assistance, but the right way to do that is to strengthen our economy, not attack hungry people. Spending for food assistance is already going down as the economy improves. About 14 million fewer people are projected to be on SNAP in the coming years as the economy comes back — a roughly 30 percent reduction! — and $11.5 billion less will be spent because more people are finding jobs.
We can also save money by addressing fraud. Like in every program, there are a small number of individuals who seek to abuse SNAP. The bipartisan Senate farm bill includes strong reforms to crack down on program misuse, and we achieved that with bipartisan support — without kicking families truly in need off the program. For example, we stopped lottery winners from continuing to get benefits, and liquor stores can’t accept food stamps when they don’t sell much food.
But the Republican plan goes far beyond program abuse, taking food away from millions of truly struggling families.
The GOP approach is like saying we’re tired of spending so much fighting wildfires, so we’ll just cut the budget for the fire service. That isn’t going to work. The fire will rage on.
It’s a shame Cantor and his allies would do this now, threatening all the bipartisan progress we’ve made on a farm bill. America’s farmers, ranchers, rural communities and the 16 million Americans whose jobs depend on agriculture do not deserve this.
We have a long history in America of making sure that hunger is kept in check. Former President Reagan understood this: He said, “As long as there is one person in this country who is hungry, that’s one person too many, and something must be done about it.”
It’s time to stop the political games. It’s time to work together to pass a farm bill, grow the economy and reduce the need for food assistance the right way: by making sure every American has the opportunity to have a good-paying job so they can feed their families.
Sen. Stabenow is Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.