The number of Americans who use food stamps hit 47.8 million last December. That is a 70 percent increase since the financial crash of 2008.
Republicans in Congress have long had their eye on the program, known formally as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), though it has largely been spared the ax that has been applied to other areas of discretionary spending.
But with Congress debating a new farm bill (SNAP is administered by the Department of Agriculture), Republicans have once again called on Congress to make food stamp cuts — cuts that would, quite literally, deny food to millions of poor, hungry Americans.
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The House Agriculture Committee has passed a farm bill that would trim $20 billion from SNAP. Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.), a farmer who directly received $70,000 in farm subsidies last year, put his support for cuts in religious terms: "The role of citizens, of Christians, of humanity is to take care of each other, but not for Washington to steal from those in the country and give to others in the country."
In the Senate, David Vitter (R-La.) introduced an amendment to the farm bill that would prevent "convicted murderers, rapists, and pedophiles" from ever getting food stamps.
The amendment was accepted by Senate Democrats, although it can still be modified on the floor. Salon's David Dayen believes that the whole point of the amendment isn't to reform SNAP, but rather to score some easy political points:
The cuts proposed in the Senate are significantly smaller than those in the House: $4.4 billion. Of that amount, only a small portion would be saved by denying the aforementioned criminals food stamps.
That has even some fiscal conservatives scratching their heads over the amendment. The Cato Institute's Tad DeHaven, no fan of large government programs, finds Vitter's target puzzling:
Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, argues that "given incarceration patterns in the United States, the amendment would have a skewed racial impact." The organization estimates that around 2 million to 3 million people would be kicked off food stamps if all of the House's cuts were enacted.
That doesn't sit well with Paul Krugman at The New York Times:
It is unclear when the full Senate will debate the farm bill, while the House version is expected to debated in June.
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