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Food Stamp Fact Check

Farm-state lawmakers hoping for passage of a farm bill by the end of the year will have to bridge a deep divide between the House and the Senate over the role of the government in helping the nation's poor.


Here's a look at some of the arguments being made by the GOP's House majority

THE CLAIM: One in 7 Americans is on food stamps,
according to a memo to GOP colleagues from House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy.

THE FACTS: True. Around 47.8 million Americans were using food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, in June of this year, a little more than 1 in 7. The program's cost has more than doubled since the Great Recession, going from roughly $38 billion in 2008 to almost $78 billion last year. The 2009 economic stimulus bill increased benefits and loosened some eligibility requirements.

THE CLAIM: "Middle-class families struggling to make ends meet themselves foot the bill for a program that has gone well beyond a safety net for children, seniors and the disabled," McCarthy's memo says.

THE FACTS: It depends on how you define "well beyond." Some 87 percent of SNAP participants live in a household with a child, a senior or a disabled person, according to Agriculture Department data. Around 45 percent of recipients are under age 18 and 9 percent are older than 60. Only about 10 percent of recipients are able-bodied adults under age 50 without dependents.

THE CLAIM: Those able-bodied adults are "the very group that is supposed to be subject to a work requirement, (but) the requirement has been waived in almost every state," the memo argues.

THE FACTS: True. Starting with enactment of the 1996 welfare law, able-bodied adults were limited to only three months of SNAP benefits in a three-year period unless they were in a work or workfare program for 20 hours or more each week. Those work requirements were waived as part of the 2009 stimulus, and the Agriculture Department later allowed states to continue to extend those waivers if they meet certain economic requirements. All but a few states are still taking advantage of the waivers.

THE CLAIM: Speaking to constituents over the August congressional recess, many GOP lawmakers focused on restoring the work requirements. Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, for example, told constituents that GOP plans won't harm "any individual child" but are aimed at "able-bodied adults who refuse to work."

THE FACTS: While some may simply refuse to work, other able-bodied adults can't find jobs. They may be sick or disabled but don't qualify for disability payments, suffer from undiagnosed mental illness or live in economically depressed areas.  "There is a whole category of individuals who are unemployable for various reasons,"South Dakota's SNAP administrator,Toelle said.

Cathy Sykes, who heads the SNAP program in Mississippi, agreed. "I think we have some who are taking advantage of the system, and I think we have others who are disabled and don't meet the criteria,"

THE CLAIM: The McCarthy memo says "newscasts tell stories of young surfers who aren't working, but cash their food stamps in for lobster."

THE FACTS: One dude did. But surfers aren't known to be hitting the lobster shack waving food stamps. Fox News interviewed a California surfer who proudly spoke of not working and using his monthly $200 in food stamps to eat. In response to the report, the Agriculture Department wrote to the state saying it was assessing the surfer's certification. USDA's Kevin Concannon said in the letter that the surfer was not a typical recipient, but acknowledged that "such an individual is technically and legally able to access nutrition assistance."

THE CLAIM: According to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, "No law-abiding beneficiary who meets the income and asset test of the current program and is willing to comply with applicable work requirements will lose their benefits under the bill."

THE FACTS: The Congressional Budget Office says that if the bill were enacted, as many as 3.8 million people could lose their benefits in 2014. Around 1.7 million of those would be able-bodied adults who would be subject to the restored work requirements after three months. The other 2.1 million would lose benefits because the bill would largely eliminate so-called categorical eligibility, a method used by many states that allows people to automatically qualify for food stamps if they already receive other benefits. Some of those people who qualify that way do not meet current SNAP income and asset tests. Republicans argue that anyone who does qualify for SNAP can just reapply for SNAP directly.

THE CLAIM: The McCarthy memo says "the federal government has embarked on an unprecedented advertising and recruitment effort to expand the number further" of food stamp beneficiaries.

THE FACTS: The Agriculture Department has long conducted such outreach under both Democratic and Republican administrations, saying that some advertising is necessary to make sure the benefits are being delivered to the right people. The department says its outreach has focused on groups that are eligible under the law, and its message is that food stamps are supposed to be temporary. The department says it discontinued advertising for SNAP last year, but states can still produce ads if they want to.

The House passed a bill Thursday that would make around $4 billion in cuts annually to the almost $80 billion-a-year food stamp program and allow states to put in place broad new work requirements for recipients.

A Senate-passed farm bill would make around a tenth of the amount of those cuts, or $400 million a year.

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 "This bill is designed to give people a hand when they need it most," Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said on the House floor just before lawmakers passed the bill.

He said the legislation "will put people on the path to self-sufficiency and independence."

The White House threatened a veto, and Senate Democrats angrily criticized the level of cuts.

WNY VOTES Split along party lines:

Rep. Brian Higgins (D- Buffalo) NO
Rep. Chris Collins (R-Clarence) YES
Rep. Tom Reed (R-Corning) YES

"The Senate will never pass such hateful, punitive legislation," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

For decades, Congress has combined farm programs with food stamps to garner urban votes for the rural measure.

But food stamps have complicated the process this year as House conservatives have called for cuts. The cost of the food stamp program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, has more than doubled since the Great Recession deepened in 2008. More than 47 million Americans, or 1 in 7, are using the program.

AP Photo

The Senate passed a bill including both food stamps and farm programs in June. Later that month, the House defeated a farm bill that included both the food and farm programs after conservatives said its food stamp cuts - around $2 billion a year - weren't high enough.

GOP leaders then split the farm programs from the food stamps and passed a farm-only bill in July. Conservatives crafted the food stamp bill, saying higher cuts would be easier to pass in a stand-alone bill.

Getting the three bills into a House-Senate conference could be tricky under House rules. Republicans said Thursday that one more step is needed - the House will have to hold a procedural vote to allow both the farm and food stamp bills to go to conference. It is unclear if Republicans who pushed to split the two bills will oppose that effort.

Most of current farm law expires at the end of this month, but its effects won't be felt until the end of the year when some dairy supports expire. Without those supports, milk prices are expected to rise.

Other farm supports won't expire until next year, but farmers have been frustrated with the drawn-out debate that has now lasted two years, saying they need more government certainty as they manage their farm operations.

The food stamp bill passed by the House would allow states to put the work requirements in place for SNAP recipients but would not force them to. The bill would allow the states to require 20 hours of work activities per week from any able-bodied adult with a child over age 1 who has child care available, and for all parents whose children are over age 6 and attending school.

The bill would allow states to drug-test applicants and would end government waivers that have allowed able-bodied adults without dependents to receive food stamps indefinitely.

The legislation also would eliminate so-called categorical eligibility, a method used by many states that allows people to qualify for food stamps automatically if they already receive other benefits.

The Senate bill would only find savings by ending a practice in some states of giving low-income people as little as $1 a year in home heating assistance, even when they don't have heating bills, in order to make them eligible for increased food stamp benefits. The House has a similar provision.

Beyond food stamps, the two chambers will also have to resolve more minor differences in farm policies. The Senate farm bill and the two House bills combined cost roughly $100 billion annually over five years and expand some farm subsidies while eliminating others.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., pleaded with his colleagues on the House floor to vote for the food stamp bill to move the farm bill closer to passage.

"It should not be this hard to pass a bill to make sure that the consumers in this country and around the world have enough to eat," Lucas said.

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Topics : PoliticsSocial Issues
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Locations : NevadaOklahomaVirginia
People : Eric CantorFrank LucasHarry Reid
09/20/2013 6:45AM
Food Stamp Fact Check
Is some sort of safety net needed, or can we cut?
09/20/2013 8:08AM
Semi retired
This program is unsustainable. The cut they are proposing is a drop in the bucket. Please just cut alot more and stop rewarding generational welfare.
09/20/2013 8:51AM
Too bad WBEN
This is why your party is shrinking and in five years will be exclusively comprised of neo-Confederates and unreconstructed Birchers.
09/20/2013 8:53AM
Where's Jackie Speier?
Any reason you neglected to mention her comments? (Relax, that question was rhetorical. We already know the answer)
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