Hundreds of thousands of food stamp recipients will lose at least $90 a month in benefits, after an amendment to the farm bill failed badly in the Senate.
The Senate overwhelmingly rejected a bid to preserve some $4.5 billion in food stamps funding, as part of the massive farm bill, on Tuesday.
The amendment to keep that spending in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, offered by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), failed 33 to 66. Sixty votes were needed to pass.
Gillibrand had hoped to prevent food aid cuts in the $969 billion bill by trimming the guaranteed profit for crop insurance companies from 14 to 12 percent and by lowering payments for crop insurers from $1.3 billion to $825 million.
Under a “heat-and-eat” initiative, states qualify any family who receives low-income heating assistance (under the program known as LIHEAP) for food stamps. The farm bill would end that program, which would affect roughly 500,000 recipients, with an average of $90 a month in benefit reductions. But Gillibrand could only muster 29 Democrats and 4 Republicans for the amendment to restore the funding. Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow joined 22 Democrats in opposition.
As Stabenow frames it, states are going around giving $1 checks for home heating assistance to low-income families, simply to raise food stamp benefits. It’s a pretty elaborate scan she’s asserting, and if the end result is that families who need help are getting a bit more – $90 a month – I don’t really understand the moral objection, rather than the self-imposed need to hit a budget target.
The bigger problem is that the safety net is fraying, and with the demise of welfare, food stamps has become one of the few channels to deliver benefits to incredibly needy populations. Food stamps also happen to have a large multiplier, since all of the money gets cycled into the economy. And it happens to have an infinitesimally low error rate, so playing up implied fraud is not only damaging, it’s wrong.
Sadly, these cuts become the baseline for the food stamp program, which will be lucky to get away with only a $4.5 billion reduction. The House has proposed $33 billion in cuts over a ten-year window in its version of the farm bill, and outside of that, proposed $134 billion in additional cuts in its budget resolution. So the food stamp program will get whacked, the question is whether it will get whacked a little or a lot.