Obama Vows Veto of House Food Stamp Bill

With the House expected to vote this week on a Republican food stamp reform bill designed to reduce fraud and encourage self-sufficiency, Democrats have launched a full-scale effort to oppose the measure.

"These cuts to SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] are just a rotten thing to do," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA). "The people who are going to be hurt are the people who are poor." 

Opponents say the GOP food stamp bill, which would save taxpayers nearly $40 billion over 10 years, would throw up to 3.8 million welfare recipients off the food stamp rolls at a time when Americans are struggling to survive the ravages of the Obama economy. 

A closer look at the GOP plan, however, reveals that federal food stamp spending would remain at more than double pre-recession levels.

Pre-recession, taxpayers spent an average $28 billion on food stamps. Under the proposed bill, the projected average cost would be $77 billion.

In total costs, over the last ten years (FY 2003-2012) taxpayers spent $462 billion on the food stamp program. Under the House plan, food stamp spending would total $725 billion over the next decade. 

Moreover, the percentage of people enrolled in the food stamp program would still remain higher than the percentage of the population enrolled ten years ago. Under the House plan, 9.4% of the population (32.3 million people) would participate in SNAP. In 2003, 7.3% of the population received food stamps. 

Total spending next year would remain largely unchanged under the House plan. In FY 2014, taxpayers will spend $80 billion funding the food stamp program. If the House plan is adopted, that figure will be $78.7 billion.

A key provision of the GOP House bill is a limitation of so-called "categorical eligibility"--a provision that makes an individual eligible for one welfare benefit categorically or automatically eligible for others. Categorical eligibility has helped swell the food stamps rolls in recent years. In January 2009, 31.9 million Americans received food stamps; today, 47.7 million receive SNAP benefits.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has long championed categorical eligibility reforms designed to protect taxpayers.

"What this means is that even if your assets or income level should make you ineligible, you will receive food stamps regardless," Sessions said in 2011. "For instance, in one state, simply calling a pregnancy hotline can make you eligible for food stamps--regardless of whether you meet the program's requirements. The program is not being run honestly, effectively, or fairly."

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) says the GOP plan will ensure that individuals who are eligible for food stamps will receive their benefits.

"No law-abiding beneficiary who meets the income and asset tests of the current program and is willing to comply with the applicable work requirements will lose their benefits under this law," Cantor said on the House floor last week.

Still, Democrats like Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) say the modest food stamp reform measure is designed to hurt poor people. "The majority is again catering to the extremes of their party," said Peterson. 

On Wednesday, the White House threatened to veto the House food stamp bill if it passes.


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