While everyone concentrates on the GOP-controlled House vote to cripple President Barack Obama's health care law, another despicable House vote threatens to impact a program used by one in seven Americans. On Thursday, the House voted to cut nearly $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over the next decade. The SNAP program provides food stamps to the approximately 47 million Americans, and the cuts are expected to knock 4 million people out of the program in 2014, and remove approximately 3 million people a year through 2023. The funding cut will start in 2014, even though Democrats objected to it and President Obama threatened to veto it.
Designed to satisfy House conservatives who rejected more moderate reductions to SNAP earlier this year, the bill creates new provisions that would require more beneficiaries to pass income, asset, and drug tests to prove their poverty. Able-bodied adults without children will only be eligible for three months of benefits unless they're working, training, or volunteering 20 hours per week, a requirement that most states waived in the past due to high unemployment numbers.
"This bill is designed to give people a hand when they need it most. Most people don't choose to be on food stamps. Most people want a job," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) "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." Proponents of the bill also argue that many Americans are abusing the SNAP program to sponge off taxpayers, as demonstrated by the recent Fox News segment on Jason Greenslate, a California food stamp recipient who prefers surfing and playing rock music to looking for a job.
"If you're a healthy adult and don't have someone relying on you to care for them, you ought to earn the benefits you receive," said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.). "Look for work. Start job training to improve your skills or do community service. But you can no longer sit on your couch or ride a surfboard like Jason in California and expect the federal taxpayer to feed you."
However, SNAP benefits primarily go to households with children, the elderly, and the disabled who made up 76% of those in the program as of 2011. The majority of SNAP recipients who are physically able to work and earn wages do so as well. More than half of SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult work while receiving SNAP and more than 80% work in the year prior to, or year after, receiving SNAP benefits. Conservative proponents of the bill, however, are under the illusion that simply having a job means one doesn't need SNAP. For many recipients, having a job does not necessarily mean food security. Regardless of whether this bill does become law or not, benefits are already set to end for all SNAP recipients in November after the expiration of a 13% benefits increase that was granted by the 2009 stimulus bill.
Former Senate majority leaders Republican Bob Dole and Democrat Tom Daschle said it best in their joint LA Times op-ed: "In a country struggling to emerge from the worst economic recession since the Depression, this is no time to play politics with hunger."