The House of Representatives takes up debate on the Farm bill Tuesday, which in its current form cuts $20.5 billion from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps. Twenty-six Democrats took the "food stamp challenge"—feeding themselves for a week on the $31.50 provided by the food stamp program—to highlight and speak out against the proposed cuts.
Those cuts are already estimated to end benefits for about 2 million people who are already part of the program, but some of the amendments proposed by Republicans could make it harder for many more Americans to get access to the assistance they need.
Drug testing for food stamps
Many Republicans have pushed for a drug testing requirement for welfare recipients in recent years, and North Carolina Republican Richard Hudson is the lead co-sponsor on an amendment that would allow all states to create the same requirement for food stamp recipients as well. Fellow Republicans Doug LaMalfa of California and Ted Yoho of Florida also signed onto this amendment. In Florida, programs to drug test welfare recipients ultimately wasted $45-thousand in taxpayer money, because the cost of the testing surpassed the savings it created.
New work requirements for food stamps
Tim Huelskamp of Kansas is the lead sponsor of an amendment that would create additional work requirements for food stamp recipients. Although it creates a new hurdle for recipients, it would ultimately impact no more than about half of all people on the program now. As of 2010 28% of adult participants in the program were employed and another 24% were unemployed and looking for work. In fact, only 1 in 6 families on food stamps in 2010 was a nonworking family without kids or an elderly or disabled family member.
Let states do whatever they want with food stamp funding
Huelskamp also introduced an amendment that would turn food stamps into a block grant program, effectively giving all the money to the states with no strings attached, allowing state lawmakers to use the money however they see fit. Opponents say that turning food stamp into a block grant program could also make it harder for states to respond to increases in need.
End link between home heating and food stamps
Doug LaMalfa of California introduced an amendment to end the connection between home heating eligibility and food stamps. Under the current version of the program, those who are eligible for assistance heating their home also qualified for food stamp benefits. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has praised the connection, calling it a "streamlined approach" that "reduces unnecessary paperwork for eligible households and state SNAP agencies."
Create a food stamp registry
In a party that opposes universal background checks for gun purchases on the grounds that it could lead to a national federal gun registry, at least one Republican believes cataloging and publicizing food purchases is a good idea. Pennsylvania Republican Tom Marino has proposed an amendment that "requires the USDA to publicly disclose the foods purchased with SNAP benefits and their costs in an online, searchable, comparable database."
Photo ID for food stamps
Considering the widespread Republican support for voter ID requirements, it's no surprise that an amendment by West Virginia David McKinley would force all states to require anyone using their food stamp benefits to present photo identification when they purchase food. States would get three years to "design and implement their own photo identification requirement programs." His home state of West Virginia considered an identification requirement for voters in 2011.
End funding for nutritional education programs
Arkansas's Tom Cotton has a bill to eliminate all funding for nutrition education programs. The program, which costs $375 million currently, helps families with limited resources learn "the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and changed behavior necessary for nutritionally sound diets." One Democrat, G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, also shares his desire, with an amendment that would cut nutrition education too.
Stop all convicted rapists and murderers from receiving food stamps
Missouri's Ann Wagner is leading the way on an amendment to extend the lifetime ban on giving food stamp benefits "dangerous felons," including convicted rapists, pedophiles, and murderers. Her bill also "disallows states from opting out or modifying this ban so that dangerous sex offenders and murders cannot receive taxpayer-funded food stamps."
New York Republican Jack Reed has a similar amendment.
Stop anyone with a felony drug offense from receiving food stamps
Republican Austin Scott of Georgia thinks Wagner's amendment doesn't go far enough, introducing one that adds drug-related felony, felony-robbery, and even treason to the list of reasons to deny food stamp benefits.
Study the lesser prairie chicken
New Mexico Republican Steve Pearce has a well-documented problem with the lesser prairie chicken, specifically that the bird could receive federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. He argues that putting the bird on such a list could "jeopardize energy, farming and ranching jobs" in his state. He also believes the farm bill is a good opportunity to assess the federal government's relationship with the bird, as the leading co-sponsor of an amendment directing the secretary of agriculture to conduct a "study on current USDA programs related to the lesser prairie chicken to analyze the economic impact and effectiveness of these programs."
Discontent with the proposed $20 billion in cuts the current version of the bill, South Carolina's Mick Mulvaney wants double those cuts, with an amendment would simply reduce food stamp spending to 2008 levels. The cost of the food stamp program has risen from about $35 billion to about $80 billion since 2007, thanks largely to the economic downturn which increased the number of people eligible for the program.
End food stamps entirely
Texas Republican Louis Gohmert isn't content just to cut or restrict the food stamp program. His amendment simply eliminates Title IV entirely, ending the food stamp program for good.
None of these amendments have much chance of becoming law anytime soon, as the White House has threatened to veto the bill for making too many cuts to food stamps and not enough to farm subsidies.
"The bill would reduce access to food assistance for struggling families and their children, does not contain sufficient commodity and crop insurance reforms, and does not provide funding for renewable energy, which is an important source of jobs and economic growth in rural communities across the country," the White House said in a statement.