The farm bill that included sharp cuts to the food stamp program unexpectedly imploded Thursday on the House floor, stunning Republican leadership who assumed they had enough votes from both parties in the bag. The House of Representatives ultimately voted to reject the sweeping $500 billion measure, 195- 234.
“Hunger advocates are just thrilled,” about the surprise turn of events, said Top Chef host Tom Colicchio.
“It was literally going to take food out of the mouths of children, people will disabilities, working families, seniors. It was just really devastating,” he said during an appearance on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell. “Ironically it didn’t pass because there were those on the right that didn’t think it went far enough, and so it didn’t pass for some of the wrong reasons...We really need to take a look at this and create a new farm bill and one that supports hungry Americans, consumers, family farms, and the environment.”
The number of conservative Republicans fretting over costs and Democrats worrying over deep cutbacks to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, outweighed the supporters.
The House bill was designed to shave off $40 billion from spending over the course of 10 years. But half the savings–more than $20 billion–would come from extreme cuts to the country’s food stamp program.
A Republican congressional staffer raised eyebrows this week when he argued that people on food stamps already get too much money.
Donny Ferguson, the communications director and agriculture policy adviser to Rep. Steve Stockman (the lawmaker who is currently raffling off an AR-15), claimed to have a “quite filling” experience living off food stamps for one week. For the average SNAP recipient, that amounts to $31.50 per week. Ferguson bragged he needed only $27.58 to get by for the week.
Colicchio called Ferguson’s stunt a “recipe for obesity” for his selection of low quality foods and pointed out the larger issue of access to nutritious, affordable food in poor neighborhoods.
“The ingredients that he bought on his food stamp challenge—pasta, tomato sauce, soda, sweet and fruit juices, no fruits and vegetables, no high quality proteins, things like rice and beans," said Colicchio. “That’s exactly what people of low income are faced with. They have very few dollars, they are buying the cheapest thing available. And the cheapest thing available happens to be very very unhealthy foods.”
Colicchio said he hopes the failed farm bill will serve as a wake-up call for citizens to start voting on food issues.