House vote could worsen food insecurity


— A vote by a majority of Republican members of the House of Representatives to cut $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistant Program (SNAP) could further jeopardize millions of people receiving assistance.

Last Thursday, Sept. 19, the House passed HR 3102, by a 217-210 vote. The bill would gouge $4 billion a year from SNAP for the next 10 years. While Senate leaders indicate that the bill won’t pass in their chamber and President Barack Obama has promised to veto the measure, the vote has unnerved social justice advocates, non-profits, and the operators of soup kitchens and food banks.

“When the House passed the bill last week, it was the next step in the Farm Bill,” said Christine Ashley, a policy analyst with Bread for the World. “The Senate proposed $4 billion in cuts to SNAP and we weren’t happy. That would affect 400,000 people.”

Ashley said she’s not sure what will happen to the bill but said representatives from the Senate and House will arrive at a compromise in a conference committee.

“I don’t expect $40 billion in cuts from the conference committee, but it will cause hardships anyway,” she said. “Unfortunately, the budget situation means that large programs like SNAP would come under scrutiny.”

Ashley said four million SNAP recipients could potentially lose their benefits, while 210,000 children would lose free school meals and 850,000 individuals and households would see their monthly benefits reduced by $90. Already, she added, every household receiving SNAP will see cuts to benefits on Nov. 1.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), said removing these benefits from those who’re unemployed would “put people on the path to self-sufficiency and independence.”

“This bill is designed to give people a hand when they need it most,” he said in remarks made prior to the vote. “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.”

Yet critics of the bill have assailed those supporters of the measure, calling them everything from misguided and cynical to unfeeling.

Bread for the World is one of many social justice, advocacy and anti-hunger organizations lobbying Congress in an attempt to stave off cuts to welfare and other safety net programs.

Bread for the World President David Beckmann said advocates and those concerned about the cuts sent more than 3,000 emails and made hundreds of telephone calls to Congress to make clear their opposition to the cuts.

“Despite our best efforts, this nutrition bill passed by a vote of 217 to 210 on the House floor. The seven-vote margin reflects the pressure you exerted on your representatives,” he said on the organization’s website. “Now it is critical that you hold your representative accountable—let him or her know you were watching. Find out how House members voted and then call your representative. Either thank your representative for voting ‘no’ or express your outrage over a ‘yes’ vote.”